Medicare Prescription Drug Discount Card Sponsors Lobbied, Contributed to Bush Campaign
Companies that received approval from HHS to offer Medicare prescription drug discount cards spent at least $35 million on lobbying expenses in 2003, and the many companies' employees donated or raised additional "hundreds of thousands of dollars" for President Bush's re-election campaign, the AP/Houston Chronicle reports. Donations from drug card sponsors' employees totaled at least $280,000 for Bush's campaign, compared with $60,000 for presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry (Mass.), according to Federal Election Commission records, the AP/Chronicle reports (Theimer, AP/Houston Chronicle, 5/10). HHS has approved a number of private companies to offer the discount cards, which were established as part of the new Medicare law and are available to beneficiaries who do not have prescription drug coverage through Medicaid. Companies that offer the cards can charge an annual enrollment fee of as much as $30 and likely will offer savings on at least one medication in each of 209 classes of treatments commonly used by Medicare beneficiaries. Medicare beneficiaries with annual incomes of less than $12,372 for individuals or $16,608 for couples will qualify for a $600 annual subsidy for their prescription drug costs and will not have to pay enrollment fees. Beneficiaries can use the Medicare Web site or call 1-800-MEDICARE to make card-to-card comparisons of prescription drug discounts. Some drug card sponsors have criticized the Web site, saying that many prices posted on it are inaccurate, and prices offered through a number of drug cards have not yet been included. According to HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson, the discount cards offer average savings of about 10% to 17% for brand-name medications and 30% to 60% for generic treatments. Enrollment in the program began this month, and the cards take effect in June (California Healthline, 5/10).
According to the AP/Chronicle, companies sponsoring the drug discount cards that posted "seven-figure lobbying expenses" in 2003 include:
BlueCross BlueShield Association, which spent $9.5 million;
Medco Health Solutions and its former parent company, Merck, which spent $9 million;
Aetna, which spent $3.7 million;
PacifiCare Health Systems, which spent $2.1 million;
UnitedHealthcare, which spent $2 million; and
- WellPoint Health Networks, which spent $1.7 million.
- UnitedHealthcare, whose employees donated at least $59,000 to Bush and $5,500 to Kerry;
- WellCare, whose employees contributed about $22,000 to Bush and no money to Kerry;
- Medco or Merck, whose employees donated at least $12,000 to Bush and $10,000 to Kerry. In addition, Medco Specialty Pharmacy Services President Alan Lotvin helped to organize a $100,000 fund-raising event for Bush that was headlined by Thompson;
- Aetna, whose employees donated at least $16,000 to Bush and $1,000 to Kerry; and
- Kaiser Foundation Health Plan or parent company Kaiser Permanente, whose employees donated about $17,000 to the Bush campaign and $21,000 to Kerry's campaign.
The ability to sponsor the drug discount cards is "potentially lucrative" for many health care companies because it could allow them to build a client base that they could maintain once Medicare prescription drug coverage begins in 2006, the AP/Chronicle reports. Although representatives for Thompson and Lotvin say the Medco-sponsored fundraiser was not connected to the drug cards, Wright Andrews, a former president of the American League of Lobbyists, said the fund-raising event "provides a textbook example of how big companies sow good will and win access when business is pending before the government," the AP/Chronicle reports. Terry Holt, a spokesperson for Bush, said that the money Bush received from drug card company employees represents "a tiny fraction" of the total $180 million in contributions, according to the AP/Chronicle (AP/Houston Chronicle, 5/10).
Federal officials on Monday said more information about the prescription drug discount cards is available, and it is not necessary for beneficiaries to postpone enrollment in one of the cards, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports. CMS Administrator Mark McClellan said, "There are no deadlines when people have to act. But for low-income people, we want to make sure they get this benefit" (Wolfe, Minneapolis Star Tribune, 5/11). McClellan last month urged beneficiaries to wait until all pricing information is available before signing up for a discount card. At the time, he said, "I think once this price competition starts, some of the cards that aren't offering prices as competitive as the other cards may want to get their prices down. The main thing for [beneficiaries] to know is they don't have to sign up now" (California Healthline, 4/29).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.