Gridlock on Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit Angers Seniors, AARP Poll Finds
More than a quarter of older voters intend to vote against Senate incumbents this November if a Medicare prescription drug benefit plan fails to pass, according to an AARP poll, CongressDaily reports. The poll, which surveyed more than 1,000 adults ages 45 and older, found that 61% are "angry" that the Senate has not passed a drug benefit. In addition, 26% said they would vote against their senator if "partisan differences" keep a bill from passing (Fulton, CongressDaily, 8/8). "Our poll suggests there is a very strong potential for an anti-incumbency mood," Chris Hansen, director of advocacy for AARP, said. "People aren't going to accept Republicans blaming Democrats or Democrats blaming Republicans. Incumbents are going to pay a price," he added (AP/Detroit News, 8/8).
To "pressure" the Senate into passing a plan, the AARP plans to hold rallies around the country. However, CongressDaily reports that some observers criticized AARP for appearing to "shift support" during the Senate's two-week floor debate on the drug plan issue. Originally, the group backed a comprehensive Democratic plan, but later the group shifted support to a Democratic plan that focused on low-income seniors. "I think they've lost a great deal of credibility," a House Republican aide said. Hansen stated that AARP supports a "broader benefit" that will help all seniors but "just wanted to get something in place" to allow the Senate to conference with the House, which passed a benefit in June (CongressDaily, 8/8).
Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) said on Tuesday that lawmakers are under great pressure to pass a Medicare prescription drug benefit and that a "renewed debate" could take place after the August recess, the Des Moines Register reports. While some lobbyists believe that congressional debate over a Medicare drug benefit will not resume until after the November elections, Grassley predicted the Senate will make another effort after the recess, the Register reports. "There will be one more big opportunity," he said, adding, "I don't know if it will be successful." If Congress is unable to pass a plan, lawmakers will likely reconsider the issue in the spring, Grassley said, adding, "If you're going to move Medicare into the 21st century, drugs have to be included" (Leys, Des Moines Register, 8/7).
Last week, the Senate defeated a compromise Medicare prescription drug benefit proposal, the fourth rejection of a benefit plan in a two-week period. Prospects for a compromise broke down more because of philosophical differences over how best to provide the benefit than over cost. Democrats want to provide a Medicare drug benefit that would be administered by the federal government, while Republicans would prefer to rely on private insurers to provide coverage (California Healthline, 8/1). In June the House passed a Republican measure on a largely party-line vote that would allow Medicare beneficiaries to purchase drug coverage directly from private insurance companies (California Healthline, 6/28).
On Wednesday, NPR's "Morning Edition" included interviews with Reps. Chet Edwards (D-Texas) and Mark Foley (R-Fla.) about their constituents' concerns in the "build-up" to the November congressional elections. Edwards said the average family in his district is "still very concerned about health care costs" and that many seniors are "rightfully skeptical of whether subsidizing private insurance companies and HMOs is really going to bring any real prescription drug price relief to seniors." Foley said his constituents are "surprisingly" upset at the Senate's failure to add a prescription drug benefit to Medicare, noting that many people were "paying close attention" to the debate and expecting the Senate to "lead on that issue." Edwards added that he expects prescription drug legislation to be "a first and utmost priority bill on the floor" when Congress returns from its recess (Montagne, "Morning Edition," NPR, 8/7). The full segment is available in RealPlayer Audio at online.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.