House Members Pursue Changes to Drug Benefit
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Thursday sent a letter to House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) to ask him to schedule a vote on a bill that would allow Medicare to negotiate directly with pharmaceutical companies for discounts on prescription drugs, a move that she said would save the program $2 billion annually, CQ HealthBeat reports.
The letter -- signed by Pelosi and Reps. John Dingell (D-Mich.), Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) and Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) -- cites a New York Times article that said pharmaceutical companies this year will receive an additional $2 billion because of a provision in the 2003 Medicare law under which the program cannot negotiate directly with pharmaceutical companies for discounts on prescription drugs. According to CQ Today, elimination of the provision would "assist low-income seniors and people with disabilities who are paying higher prices for prescription drugs under the Medicare Program than when they were covered by Medicaid."
Elimination of the provision also would allow Medicare to address the "doughnut hole" in the prescription drug benefit, under which beneficiaries must pay 100% of total annual medication costs between $2,250 and $5,100, the letter states.
Hastert did not respond to a request for comments on the letter (Abruzzese, CQ HealthBeat, 7/20).
In related news, the San Francisco Chronicle on Friday examined how some Medicare beneficiaries enrolled in the prescription drug benefit are "being shortchanged by erroneous premium deductions" from their Social Security checks. The problem appears to involve Medicare beneficiaries who decided to have monthly premiums for their prescription drug plans deducted from their Social Security checks and later switched plans.
In some cases, "the message to stop deducting the premiums from the first plan did not get through to Social Security," the Chronicle reports. Social Security Administration and CMS officials said that they have begun to address the problem.
Mark Lassiter, a spokesperson for the SSA, said, "In most cases, this works just fine, but unfortunately there are exceptions," adding that about four million Medicare beneficiaries decided to have monthly premiums for their prescription drug plans deducted from their Social Security checks.
Peter Ashkenaz, a spokesperson for CMS, said, "We're hoping people will start to see refunds within the next couple of months. But it will take at least a month or two to get this resolved."
Mohit Ghose, a spokesperson for the America's Health Insurance Plans, said, "We believe there continue to be systems that may be affecting beneficiaries' payments that are outside the control of the Part D plans themselves" (Colliver, San Francisco Chronicle, 7/21).