Frist to Introduce Bill to Allow Rx Drug Discount Plan
One day after a federal court temporarily blocked President Bush's pharmacy discount card program, Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) last Friday announced plans to introduce legislation that would implement the plan, the Washington Post reports (Goldstein, Washington Post, 9/8). Under the plan, which Bush announced in July, pharmacy benefit managers would negotiate discounts with drug manufacturers and pharmacies and sell cards to Medicare beneficiaries for up to $25, allowing them to purchase pharmaceuticals at a 15% to 20% discount (California Healthline, 7/13). Last Thursday, Judge Paul Friedman of U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia issued a temporary injunction against the plan, ruling that the White House may have lacked the authority to establish the program without congressional approval (California Healthline, 9/7). Frist said that he will introduce a bill "to clearly give the Bush administration the authority to move ahead" with the program (Washington Post, 9/8). He said that Senate GOP leaders back the legislation, adding that he will "seek the support" of Senate Democrats (Bloomberg News, 9/7). However, according to NPR's "Morning Edition," many lawmakers, including Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), have "doubts" about the value of drug discount cards. Waxman, whose staff conducted a study of existing drug discount cards programs, said, "When we looked at discount cards, we found that they failed to provide any significant help to senior citizens. They promised discounts of 25%, 35%, 50% or more, but they failed to deliver these savings" (Rovner, "Morning Edition," NPR, 9/10). But Frist added, "This is clearly no substitute for comprehensive structural reform of the Medicare program, including adding a prescription drug benefit."
CongressDaily reports the federal court ruling last Thursday may "push Congress to act more swiftly" on a prescription drug benefit under Medicare. The Senate Finance Committee "has been struggling" to develop a proposal and discussions "appeared to break down" before the August recess. According to CongressDaily, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), ranking member of the committee, and a group of senators have moved to "pursue their own efforts." A spokesperson for committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) also said that the issue "still remains a priority." However, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) predicted that Congress would not likely pass a prescription drug benefit this year (Fulton, CongressDaily, 9/7). The full NPR report will be archived in Real Audio and available at http://search.npr.org/cf/cmn/cmnpd01fm.cfm?PrgDate=09/10/2001&PrgID=3 after noon ET.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.