DRUG BENEFIT: White House Slams GOP Plan
Calling the House Republican proposal for a Medicare prescription drug benefit "a Swiss cheese plan with more holes than substance," top administration officials yesterday argued that the measure is "underfunded, unlikely to be available to all (Medicare) beneficiaries and inevitably ... unaffordable to people with disabilities and probably millions of seniors" (Gullo, AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 4/21). At a White House briefing with reporters, HHS Secretary Donna Shalala, National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling and White House Health Care Policy Coordinator Christopher Jennings said that the means testing in the GOP plan would shut out "numerous categories of needy seniors" and that the "Republican assumptions about future spending [were] unrealistically low," CongressDaily reports. Fearful that "[i]nsurer defined premiums and benefits could vary widely and lead to confusion, fraud and denial of benefits," Jennings also criticized the plan's lack of details, pointing out that it fails to establish the size of deductibles, co-pays, benefit limits, benefit minimums and the stop-loss level. He additionally questioned whether the proposal would extend drug coverage through the Medicare or Medicaid program, noting that participation in Medicaid is lower (Koffler, 4/20). GOP leaders, however, defended their plan, accusing the White House of "jumping the gun with its criticism." John Feehery, spokesperson for House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), said, "The White House is taking shots in the dark. We are still flushing out the details of the plan. We believe we are going to have a good plan for all seniors" (AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 4/21).
Open to Negotiation
Despite finding many flaws with the House GOP plan, administration officials nevertheless maintained that "negotiation [on the issue] is warranted." Jennings said, "Getting a bill done this year is ... the president's desire, and it is our instructions." Sperling added, "There's nothing significant we've (gotten passed) where we've not modified our proposals" (CongressDaily, 4/20). The Clinton aides said they hoped to continue discussion with members of the Senate Finance Committee, where bipartisan efforts have frequently found success (New York Times News Service/Baltimore Sun, 4/21).