California Healthline Rounds Up Medicare Rx Drug Benefit Opinion Pieces
The House Energy and Commerce and Ways and Means committees last week approved a $350 billion, 10-year House Republican Medicare package that in part would give seniors a prescription drug benefit. The bill would permit Medicare beneficiaries to purchase drug coverage directly from private insurance companies. Seniors would pay a $250 annual deductible and a $35 monthly premium. Low-income seniors would be exempt from the premiums and deductible. The government would cover 80% of seniors' annual prescription drug costs up to $1,000, 50% up to $2,000 and no costs between $2,000 and $3,700 or $3,800, amounts approved by the Energy and Commerce and Ways and Means committees, respectively. After those amounts, a catastrophic benefit would begin (California Healthline, 6/24). The following is a summary of editorials and opinion pieces reacting to the action:
Dallas Morning News: The House should approve the Republican prescription drug plan, the editorial states, because it will allow the marketplace to help improve Medicare. "Introducing the principles of choice and competition can result in more options for seniors and lower Medicare costs over the long run," the editorial states, concluding, "Medicare needs help [and] the marketplace approach can render some of the aid" (Dallas Morning News, 6/25).
Des Moines Register: Some senior citizens in this country "choose between food and [prescription] drugs," the editorial states, adding, "This is a reality. And a Medicare drug benefit has to address it." A prescription drug benefit also should "create downward pressure on drug prices," the Register says, noting that the House plan "fails in that respect." The editorial concludes, "If the government is going to allocate billions to prescription-drug coverage for seniors under Medicare, the plan has to provide real help for real people ... and include some protections for taxpayers, too" (Des Moines Register, 6/25).
Detroit News: The current Medicare prescription drug benefit proposals before Congress would "worsen [the program's] existing financial difficulties without reforming the program," the editorial states. Instead, the "best way" to give seniors drug coverage would be similar to the way the federal government offers insurance to its employees, an idea proposed by President Bush during his campaign. Under such a structure, seniors would receive a "fixed" amount of money to choose coverage from a "menu of insurance options," allowing seniors to "use their Medicare dollars to purchase health care that best suits their needs without further burdening taxpayers." For instance, seniors could choose a catastrophic insurance plan and save the remaining money for medications or could spend the entire amount on a more comprehensive health plan with drug coverage. The editorial concludes, "Medicare needs to be modernized to better meet the needs of seniors. To do this without burning American taxpayers will require both parties to focus on fundamental Medicare reform. Both parties need to go back to the drawing board" (Detroit News, 6/24).
New York Times: The Senate Democrats' prescription drug benefit proposal is "by far [a] better version" than the plan offered by House Republicans, a New York Times editorial states (New York Times, 6/22). Under the Senate Democrats' plan, which add a drug benefit directly to Medicare and would cost between $400 billion and $500 billion over 10 years, beneficiaries would pay a $25 monthly premium with no deductible, a $10 copayment for generic drugs and a $40 copayment for brand- name drugs, and Medicare would cover their annual prescription drug costs that exceed $4,000. The plan also calls for reduced premiums and copayments for low-income beneficiaries (California Healthline, 6/18). The Times notes that under the House Republicans' version, which relies on private insurance companies to offer prescription drug policies, "it's unclear that enough insurance companies would be willing to participate and provide the economies that come from competition." The Senate version, which is "clearly more generous to beneficiaries," will have trouble passing the "chamber's procedural obstacles," the Times predicts. Still, the editorial concludes, "[I]f the public were given a choice between a good prescription drug plan for the elderly and less taxes for the country's richest citizens, there's little doubt which they would choose. But the upcoming debate is time for another reminder" (New York Times, 6/22).
St. Petersburg Times: The House Republicans' proposal would be a "risky experiment, at best," according to the editorial, offering "a confusing mishmash of coverages and based on a concept of drug-only insurance that doesn't exist in the real world." In addition, there is no indication that "any [insurance] company is willing to take on [the] financial risk" associated with the Republican plan that provides benefits through private insurers. The editorial concludes, "It could turn out to be more of a political hoax than a workable program" (St. Petersburg Times, 6/21).
- Washington Times: Although it is "true that drug spending has been increasing, ... this is not because drug companies are gouging granny," columnist Rich Lowry says in a Washington Times opinion piece. He concedes that it is "silly" that Medicare does not have a prescription drug benefit, but adds the problem is that Medicare, "as currently constituted, is broken." Lowry says, "Simply adding a drug benefit to a unreformed Medicare -- as Democrats would in their proposal -- will therefore inevitably mean drug price controls. This will be a disaster." He concludes, "So, the health of everyone might suffer because the Democrats want to pander to the elderly. Would that someone in Washington have the courage to say to comfortable seniors, 'Granny, pay for your own damn drugs'" (Lowry, Washington Times, 6/25).
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.