California Healthline Rounds Up Editorials on Medicare Reform, Rx Drug Benefit
Although President Bush has criticized Medicare as "old," "stale" and "tired," the program is "not failing its participants," but rather "the federal government is failing Medicare" through "misguided federal budget policies," according to a New York Times editorial. While Medicare may have "a long-term solvency problem," the financial situation is "made worse" because Medicare revenues are not being held for later use, and instead are being used for other federal spending. Instead of addressing the problem, Bush and congressional Republicans are pushing to reform Medicare to allow seniors to purchase their own insurance coverage. However, Bush has not offered any "comprehensive proposal" to implement such a plan, and seniors are not "always in the best position to shop around for benefits," the Times notes. In addition, Medicare+Choice has "stalled because private insurance companies say the premiums are inadequate." The Times concludes: "[President] Bush would probably do better to stop the Medicare bashing and work to improve the system by returning to sensible federal fiscal policies" (New York Times, 8/20).
With Congress unable to pass a Medicare prescription drug plan, the House should approve a Senate-passed bill that closes loopholes in patent law to give Americans "a little relief from fast-rising [pharmaceutical] prices," according to a Chicago Tribune editorial (Chicago Tribune, 8/19). Sponsored by Sens. Charles Schumer (D- N.Y.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), the bill (S 812) would close loopholes in the 1984 Hatch-Waxman Act that delay generic drug competition by giving brand-name drug makers only one 30-month patent extension per product. The bill also would prevent brand-name drug companies from paying generic manufacturers to keep their products off the market and would allow generic drug companies to legally challenge "frivolous patents," including "superficial changes" in a treatment's color or physical design intended only to "stifle competition" (California Healthline, 8/1). The Senate was "right" to pass the bill, but "there's reason to tread cautiously," according to the Tribune. Brand-name drug companies have "taken the risk and spent the money" to develop medications, and it would be "foolhardy" to eliminate the incentive for companies to take those risks. Still, the NIH pays a "significant chunk" of research costs, and patent law should not allow drug companies to "take advantage" of American consumers, the Tribune says. The editorial concludes that the "House should follow the Senate's lead" because passing the bill would not "infringe" on drug companies' original patent protection, but "merely closes a loophole that was inviting abuse" (Chicago Tribune, 8/19).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.