House Democrats Announce Health Care Agenda
House Democrats on Wednesday -- in a press conference as part of Cover the Uninsured Week, coordinated by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation -- outlined a health care agenda that seeks to lower the number of uninsured U.S. residents, allow retirees under age 65 to buy into Medicare and legalize the reimportation of U.S.-manufactured prescription drugs from abroad, CQ HealthBeat reports (CQ HealthBeat, 5/4).
The agenda seeks to allow Medicare to negotiate directly with pharmaceutical companies for discounts on medications; provide a 50% tax credit to help small businesses and the self-employed purchase health insurance; extend coverage to 7.5 million low-income working parents whose children are enrolled in the SCHIP program and allow adults between the ages of 55 and 65 to purchase health coverage through Medicare and provide them with tax credits to reduce the cost.
The Democrats have not released a cost estimate for their agenda or indicated potential sources of funds (California Healthline, 5/4). The agenda also seeks to increase funding for NIH for fiscal year 2006 by $1.5 billion more than President Bush has requested.
Democrats said the agenda would generate cost savings through preventive care. Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) said, "Care denied or delayed always costs more when they turn 65."
Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) said that the agenda would save the country billions of dollars by allowing HHS to negotiate drug prices for Medicare. He said, "Time and again we've proven the leverage of bulk buying."
Mark Merritt -- president of the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association, which represents pharmacy benefit managers -- in a statement said, "Rather than dictating a one-size-fits-all approach, policymakers should be focusing on common-sense solutions that can provide consumers with access to a choice of plans providing coverage for clinically-proven, cost-effective brand-name generic drugs."
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) asked senators to participate in a Cover the Uninsured Week event, enter a statement on the uninsured into the Congressional Record, issue a press release about uninsured U.S. residents or write an opinion piece in their local newspaper. The Senate is in recess this week.
RWJF President and CEO Risa Lavizzo-Mourey applauded the senators' actions and called for "less partisan positioning." She said, "We hope that more leaders will set aside their preconceived notions about expanding coverage and work together to seek common ground" (CQ HealthBeat, 5/4).