Democrats Criticize Bush’s $77B Proposal for a Medicare Rx Drug Benefit
Democrats yesterday criticized President Bush's 10-year, $77 billion proposal to provide prescription drug coverage to three million Medicare beneficiaries as "too skimpy," the Detroit Free Press reports. Under the proposal, part of a $190 billion, 10-year Medicare reform plan that Bush described to lawmakers Monday, the federal government would offer states $77 billion to provide prescription drug coverage to low-income seniors. States could provide prescription drug coverage to Medicare beneficiaries with annual incomes between 100% and 150% of the federal poverty level, or between $11,610 and $17,415 for a couple. The federal government would cover 90% of the cost of the program. States, which would administer and determine eligibility for the program, would cover 10% of the cost (Holland, Hearst Newspapers/Detroit Free Press, 1/30). According to Bush administration officials, the president hopes that the plan will "jump-start efforts in Congress" to add a prescription drug benefit to Medicare. They added that the plan represents "one of several building blocks aimed at eventually providing comprehensive drug coverage to all Medicare beneficiaries." Bush said that he "remains determined" to pass Medicare reform legislation, including a prescription drug benefit, this year (Rovner, CongressDaily, 1/29).
However, Democrats described the $77 billion offered in the proposal as inadequate to provide prescription drug coverage for seniors (Hearst Newspapers/Detroit Free Press, 1/29). Senior advocacy groups also said that the plan would not help the 37 million Medicare beneficiaries who do not qualify under the plan and "who also struggle to pay for increasingly expensive drugs" (Feder, San Jose Mercury News, 1/30). Sen. Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) criticized the drug benefit plan, saying, "I don't think it's an idea that goes nearly far enough. ... [The drug benefit] falls far short of the universal approach that all Democrats and I think some Republicans support" (Hutcheson/Kuhnhenn, Philadelphia Inquirer, 1/30). And noting that Congress allocated $300 billion last year for Medicare reform, Rep. Harold Ford (D-Tenn.) said, "Everyone is encouraged that the president recognizes that a prescription drug benefit belongs at the top of the nation's agenda and it should be part of Medicare. Clearly we have a $110 billion gap between what the two sides are asking for" (Brosnan, Memphis Commercial Appeal, 1/30).
Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) said that Bush's proposal "won't buy [seniors] an aspirin," adding, "It's a blatant political attempt to avoid fulfilling a promise to provide decent health care." Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) said that he fears that Bush's proposal would "deflate long-standing efforts" to pass a comprehensive Medicare prescription drug benefit (Hearst Newspapers/Detroit Free Press, 1/30). Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) said that the $77 billion would only cover a small number of seniors "or we'll have a program so diluted it will not provide significant relief for most Medicare beneficiaries." Among senior advocates, a "disappointed" Max Richman, who represents the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, called the proposal "too little, too late" (CongressDaily, 1/29). AARP CEO William Novelli also criticized Bush's plan as "inefficient," adding, "We will continue to urge the president and Congress to allocate sufficient funding to implement a meaningful and affordable drug benefit in Medicare."
Meanwhile, Republicans and some lobbying groups offered praise for Bush's proposal. Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said that the plan would offer a "very targeted approach" to prescription drug coverage for Medicare beneficiaries, but also called the proposal "too narrow" (Hearst Newspapers/Detroit Free Press, 1/30). Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) added, "I am encouraged that [Bush] is working with us to provide an affordable drug plan as part of an effort to strengthen Medicare." She also "praised" the president for his "commitment to improving Medicare and meeting the needs of America's seniors" (Snowe release, 1/28). Families USA also "tentatively embraced" Bush's proposal. "We support well-structured incremental proposals to extend drug coverage to low-income seniors as a first step towards universal drug coverage for Medicare beneficiaries," Families USA Executive Director Ron Pollack said in a statement (CongressDaily, 1/29).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.