BUDGET: Rx Coverage, Uninsured Top Clinton Agenda
President Clinton will propose a $1.84 trillion budget for FY 2001 today that includes provisions for prescription drug coverage for seniors and salvaging Medicare. Clinton is calling on $168 billion to be spent over the next decade on seniors' medications. Monthly premiums would begin at $26, increasing to $51 by 2009, and would be reduced or eliminated for those with low-incomes (Fram, AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 2/6). This figure is up from last year's proposal, which called for $118 billion over the next 10 years with premiums beginning at $24 and capping at $44. Clinton's new plan would cover half of the costs for medication, up to $5,000 each year, when fully phased-in, for each beneficiary. The "biggest change" is the additional $35 billion reserve fund, beginning in 2006, to aid in offsetting the "catastrophic drug costs" of those with the highest drug expenditures (Babington et al, Washington Post, 2/7). Martin Corry, director of federal affairs at the AARP, said the suggested financial assistance "is certainly welcome" but includes "a more modest benefit than may be needed by many seniors with middle and modest incomes" (McKinnon et al, Wall Street Journal, 2/7).
The president also hopes to extend Medicare's solvency until 2025 (Fram, AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 2/6). To help finance Medicare initiatives, Clinton proposes $70 billion in Medicare savings over the next 10 years, achieved mostly by reducing payments to providers. But hospitals and other Medicare providers are urging Congress to increase, not decrease, spending. Enhancements to the program will include ending beneficiaries' cost-sharing for preventive services, adding another $8 billion over 10 years (Wall Street Journal, 2/7). To help the uninsured, Clinton proposed a $110 billion, 10-year plan, to help reduce the number of uninsured by 25%. He is also calling for additional funds to help fight the spread of HIV/AIDS.
"The president's budget sounds to me like the same old Democratic play of higher taxes and higher spending," John Feehery, spokesperson for House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), said. House Budget Committee Chair John Kasich (R-Ohio) added, "It's the flavor of the day. Whatever any interest group wants, the president is making a promise to them" (Washington Post, 2/7). Robert Stevenson, spokesperson for the Senate Budget Committee, concurred, saying, "From what we know of this budget, it would appear that the era of big government is back with a vengeance." Terry Holt, spokesperson for the House Budget Committee, noted the emphasis on issues focused on by presidential hopeful Vice President Al Gore. He said, "It's like a laundry list of promises to groups that Al Gore will need to get elected president" (Stevenson, New York Times, 2/7). The AP/Philadelphia Inquirer reports that Clinton's plan might also help congressional Democrats by stressing budget issues favorable to the party, such as Medicare. But Mark Rozell, a political scientist at Catholic University, offered another reason for the president's spending plan. "There is no better way to understand what legacy a president wants to leave in his final year than to look at his budget. Clearly, Clinton does not want to go out with a whimper," he said (2/6).