Hastert to Propose ‘Broad’ 10-Year, $300B Prescription Drug Plan for Medicare
House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) next week will propose a "much broader" Medicare prescription drug benefit than he has supported in the past, a move that could "revive congressional efforts to subsidize prescription drug costs" for seniors, the Miami Herald reports. Hastert will propose spending $300 billion over 10 years on a prescription drug benefit for Medicare beneficiaries, about double the amount House Republicans have proposed in the past, Hastert spokesperson John Feehery said yesterday. President Bush has said that he hopes to spend $190 billion over 10 years on a prescription drug benefit. According to the Herald, Hastert's $300 billion proposal "puts House Republicans closer to the position of Democrats" who control the Senate. Hastert will "press" House Republicans for support next week at a retreat to discuss the 2002 session, although details of the proposal "have yet to be worked out," aides said. "We are going to try to move on this fairly quickly," Feehery said, adding that the House could pass a prescription drug benefit by late spring. John Rother, policy director for AARP, said that Hastert's announcement marks "the first threshold that has to be crossed to get a prescription drug benefit" but warned that $300 billion "may turn out to be too little, given the soaring costs of prescription drugs." Senate Democrats also "applauded" Hastert's announcement. "It sounds pretty good to me," Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) said.
However, Rockefeller said that a federal budget deficit "could be a major obstacle" to a prescription drug benefit this year. The Congressional Budget Office reported Wednesday that the federal government will face deficits for the next two years after four years of surpluses. In addition, the Herald reports that "Congress' philosophical split" over the structure of a prescription drug benefit represents a another "major obstacle." House Republicans favor a "more market-oriented approach" that relies in part on private insurers, while Senate Democrats support a plan that would allow the government to administer a prescription drug benefit "just as it runs Medicare and Medicaid," the Herald reports (Koszczuk, Miami Herald, 1/24).
Meanwhile, CongressDaily reports that Reps. Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.) and Mike Ross (D-Ark.) also "are among the first lawmakers out of the starting block this year" who plan to introduce a prescription drug benefit. According to aides, the lawmakers planned to introduce a bill yesterday to establish a new Part D in Medicare for a prescription drug benefit program. Under the program, eligible seniors would pay a monthly premium determined by the HHS secretary and a 20% copayment on prescription drugs, as well as a $250 annual deductible. "The idea is to make it as open and as voluntary and as senior-friendly as possible," an Emerson spokesperson said. In addition, the bill would establish a "medicine management service" to help ensure that Medicare beneficiaries "take their medicines correctly." A Ross spokesperson said that the legislation also would encourage the use of generic drugs. Several pharmacy organizations and groups that represent Medicare beneficiaries will likely support the bill, CongressDaily reports. According to CongressDaily, "There is no cost estimate yet" for the legislation, but the cost "will be the key" to whether the bill moves in Congress. CongressDaily reports that Emerson, in preparing the legislation, spent the last congressional recess working in a pharmacy (CongressDaily, 1/23).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.