Bush for First Time Intervenes in Medicare Negotiations on Prescription Drug Coverage for Dual-Eligibles
President Bush last week for the first time intervened directly in negotiations to reconcile the House and Senate Medicare bills (HR 1 and S 1) when he told Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) that he "opposed the direction lawmakers appeared to be taking" on prescription drug coverage for beneficiaries eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid, the Washington Post reports (Goldstein, Washington Post, 10/8). Last Wednesday, a small group of Medicare conferees tentatively agreed to support the House position on prescription drug coverage for so-called dual-eligibles. Under the House bill, the federal government would gradually assume the cost of prescription drug coverage for dual-eligibles over 15 years. Under the Senate bill, dual-eligibles would continue to receive prescription drug coverage through Medicaid. Bush administration officials reportedly told lawmakers earlier that they support the Senate position on prescription drug coverage for dual-eligibles (California Healthline, 10/2). Bush telephoned Frist after the conferees reached the tentative agreement on prescription drug coverage for dual-eligibles, and the next day, Frist told conferees in a meeting that he "did not favor the tentative agreement and regarded the issue of how to handle those patients an open question," according to meeting participants, the Post reports. The White House did not comment on the Bush telephone call, but Deputy Press Secretary Claire Buchan said that "the president is committed to giving all seniors more options and better choices, including access to prescription drug coverage." Frist was unavailable for comment. According to the Post, the decision by Bush to "weigh in personally" on the issue of dual-eligibles "came as members of both parties have exhorted him to be more assertive in Congress' efforts" to reach an agreement on a final Medicare bill by the Oct. 17 deadline set by Republican lawmakers (Washington Post, 10/8).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.