House Passes GOP Medicare Reform Bill Early this Morning on Party-Line Vote
In what would be the "largest expansion of Medicare since its creation in 1965," the House voted early this morning to pass a GOP-backed $350 billion Medicare reform bill (HR 4954) that includes a prescription drug benefit, the New York Times reports. The 221-208 vote largely followed party lines, with eight Democrats supporting the bill and eight Republicans opposing it. The Republican measure would allow Medicare beneficiaries to purchase drug coverage directly from private insurance companies for a $250 annual deductible and a $33 monthly premium. Low-income seniors would be exempt from the premiums and deductible. The federal government would cover 80% of seniors' annual prescription drug costs up to $1,000, 50% up to $2,000 and no costs between $2,000 and $3,700, after which a catastrophic benefit would begin (Pear, New York Times, 6/28). In the hours before the bill passed, the Republican leadership worked to "whittle down" the number of Republicans opposing the bill. Some Republicans raised concerns that the measure fails to address the rising cost of prescription drugs, and others said they would oppose the measure unless it includes increased Medicare reimbursements for hospitals in their districts (Rovner, CongressDaily/AM, 6/28). The White House also "mounted a lobbying blitz" to garner support for the bill, saying it was "essential" that it pass before the July 4 recess (Goldstein/Eilperin, Washington Post, 6/28).
After approving the legislation, Republicans called the vote a "major victory" that "show[ed] their commitment to the elderly" (New York Times, 6/28). House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) said, "We need action, not words, because America's greatest generation cannot wait any longer for help on their prescription drug bills" (Hook, Los Angeles Times, 6/28). Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-Ariz.) said, "Every senior who wants this plan will be eligible for coverage. We will leave no senior behind" (Welna, "Morning Edition," NPR, 6/28). Rep. Nancy Johnson (R-Conn.), who helped draft the legislation, said, "This bill is a giant step forward for seniors in America. This is the greatest leap forward for women in health care since the founding of Medicare" (Espo, AP/Contra Costa Times, 6/28).
However, Democratic House members called the bill an "election year sham" that benefits insurance companies more than Medicare beneficiaries (New York Times, 6/28). House Minority Leader Richard Gephart (D-Mo.) said, "In the end, this Republican bill listens not to the people of this country, it listens to the pharmaceutical companies and the insurance companies" (Carter, AP/Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 6/28). Comparing the GOP measure to Swiss cheese, Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) said, "[S]eniors get all the holes and no cheese. There's no guaranteed deductible. There's no guaranteed premium. There's no guaranteed benefit and there's no insurance company that's ever offered a plan of this type" ("Morning Edition," NPR, 6/28). The full NPR segment in available in RealPlayer online.
Despite the House vote, passage of a Medicare drug benefit in Congress this year remains "highly uncertain," the Post reports (Washington Post, 6/28). Democrats plan to debate "a more generous" Medicare prescription drug plan next month (Los Angeles Times, 6/28). Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) "vowed" that Senate Democrats will "try to make good on a commitment" to bring prescription drug legislation to the Senate floor in July and pass a "meaningful" bill ("Morning Edition," NPR, 6/28). The full NPR segment will be available in RealPlayer 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.