Bush Calls on Lawmakers To Pass Privately Run Medicare Rx Drug Benefit During Minneapolis Visit
During a speech in Minneapolis yesterday, President Bush discussed prescription drug coverage for Medicare beneficiaries and called on lawmakers to pass a drug benefit that provides choices for seniors and encourages drug development, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports. In the address, Bush said that a Medicare prescription drug benefit must not include regulations that would "stifle private research and innovation" (Howatt, Minneapolis Star Tribune, 7/12). He cited a study released yesterday by HHS that found increased government regulation could reduce access to new treatments for seniors. "We need a Medicare system that is updated and modern to serve the seniors of today with the medicine of today and be able to serve the seniors of tomorrow ... with the medicines of tomorrow," Bush said (Gerstenzang, Los Angeles Times, 7/12). He endorsed a Republican-sponsored bill (HR 4954) passed by the House last month that would allow Medicare beneficiaries to purchase prescription drug coverage directly from private insurance companies and urged the Senate to approve similar legislation. Many Senate Democrats support a measure that would provide a prescription drug benefit as part of Medicare coverage. According to Bush, however, such a plan would result in government price controls, which would discourage pharmaceutical companies from developing new treatments. The Senate plans to debate the issue next week (Nagourney, New York Times, 7/12).
Bush's remarks drew criticism from consumer advocacy groups and some lawmakers. Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, said, "The Bush administration has been lured hook, line and sinker by the pharmaceutical lobby's misleading claim that high prices are needed to sustain research and development" (Los Angeles Times, 7/12). Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) added, "We need to contain costs so seniors can buy these drugs at affordable prices, while balancing the need to preserve necessary research for new medicines" (deFiebre, Minneapolis Star Tribune, 7/12). According to the New York Times, Bush's comments on a Medicare prescription drug benefit "reflect the calculation" that the issue "will be central to major congressional races" in November (New York Times, 7/12).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.