Congress Faces Doubts on Rx Benefit, Patients’ Rights
Congressional lawmakers returning from the August recess this week face a "heavy workload," including a number of health care issues, that has "grown even more daunting" with the news of the declining federal budget surplus, the Washington Post reports. According to the Post, lawmakers will likely face an "early showdown" on proposals to add a prescription drug benefit to Medicare. Earlier this year, Congress approved a budget resolution that included $300 billion over 10 years for a prescription drug benefit, but the proposal "could get sideswiped by the budget squeeze" (Dewar, Washington Post, 9/4). The Congressional Budget Office last week released a report finding that the overall federal budget surplus projected for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30 had dropped by $122 billion to $153 billion since estimates were last made in May (Shenon, New York Times, 8/28). The White House Office of Management and Budget on Aug. 22 released figures showing a $123 billion decrease since April in the size of the projected federal budget surplus (California Healthline, 8/23).
Although "committed" to approving a prescription drug benefit this year, Republicans and Democrats remain "divided" over "how much money will be needed and how to pay for it" (Abrams, AP/Nando Times, 9/2). The Baltimore Sun reports that the "shrunken" federal budget surplus may "threaten" legislation to add a prescription drug benefit to Medicare this year (Hosler, Baltimore Sun, 9/2). The New York Times reports that a prescription drug benefit under Medicare "appears imperiled" (Alvarez, New York Times, 9/3). Democrats say that President Bush's 10-year, $1.35 trillion tax cut will "crowd out" a Medicare prescription drug benefit (Balz, Washington Post, 9/2). The Post reports that the declining budget surplus has "eroded much of the money that Bush had been counting on" to reform Medicare and add a prescription drug benefit to the program (Allen, Washington Post, 9/4). Rep. Charles Stenholm (D-Texas) said, "[I]t's over. ... There'll be no more prescription drug bill" (Dewar, Washington Post, 9/4).
Lawmakers will also attempt to resolve differences between the patients' rights bills passed by the House and Senate earlier this year (AP/Nando Times, 9/3). Bush and Democratic leaders "disagree" on the issue (McFeatters, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/2). According to the New York Times, "considerable differences remain over the scope of lawsuits" and the amount of damage awards. A compromise "has not been worked out," Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said (New York Times, 9/2). White House spokesperson Ari Fleischer said that Bush plans to hold "one-on-one meetings" with lawmakers next week (Godfrey, Washington Times, 9/4). The Baltimore Sun reports Bush will likely "seek an early bipartisan victory" on patients' rights legislation in order to "perhaps divert attention from gloomy economic news." According to the Sun, patients rights' represents one of the "most likely candidates for success" among legislative proposals this year (Baltimore Sun, 9/2). The Post reports that "political battles" also will likely "escalate" this fall, with Republicans and Democrats "well aware that each party's handling of high-profile issues" such as patients' rights and a prescription drug benefit could have a "significant impact on the outcome" of the 2002 election (Dewar, Washington Post, 9/4).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.