MEDICARE BENEFIT: Special Interests Pressure Congress
Congress will be hard pressed to pass legislation providing seniors with an affordable drug benefit this year as both the pharmaceutical and insurance industries continue to lobby against each other's proposals, the New York Times reports. Drug manufacturers, trying to avoid a new "big government" plan, argue that insurance companies should offer coverage to Medicare beneficiaries, with the federal government subsidizing the costs for low-income seniors. The insurance companies refuse that proposal for fear that escalating drug costs will outpace premiums or federal subsidies. To pass legislation, Congress will have to choose one industry over the other, something lawmakers are hesitant to do as both industries have "extensive networks of political contacts." Political action committees for both industries gave a combined $18 million to political parties last year, favoring Republicans two-to-one over Democrats, according to data from the Federal Election Commission. Both industries spent tens of millions of dollars on lobbying and advertising to sway the debate in their favor. Many in the GOP and some Democrats have expressed interest in the pharmaceutical companies' plan to provide a drug benefit through competing private health plans and insurance companies. However, the insurance industry is hesitant to assume that risk due to the unpredictable cost of prescription medications (Pear, 2/21).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.