MEDICARE REFORM: Panel Weighs Rx Coverage
As the National Bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare gears up to debate the merits of providing prescription drug benefits to seniors, Co-Chair Sen. John Breaux (D-LA) has not publicly taken a definitive stance on the issue. CongressDaily/A.M. reports that Breaux "has not yet decided how to handle the prescription drug issue," and is waiting for HCFA cost estimates of various options. "We can't get very far without those estimates," an aide said. Other commission members and major health care players have already staked out their positions. Rep. Bill Thomas (R-CA), panel member and chair of the House Ways and Means health subcommittee, is worried that if Medicare provides prescription coverage, "a large chunk" of seniors who own more expensive fee-for-service plans or Medigap policies will switch over to Medicare, creating an even heavier burden on the program. The insurance, pharmaceutical and managed care industries also are opposed to the proposal that they believe will "crowd out" private-sector dollars already paying for drugs. CongressDaily/A.M. reports that about two-thirds of seniors receive the benefit either through out-of-pocket costs, Medigap policies or Medicaid, while the remaining third have no coverage whatsoever. Thomas proposes finding a way to cover the underserved third, but keeping the remaining population funded by private money and Medicaid. Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) and others contend, however, that the cost of adding drug coverage to Medicare would not be that significant, arguing that seniors spending their own money on drugs could, under the proposed reform, pay higher premiums for the drug benefit. Besides, they argue, many seniors' drug coverage needs are not being met under current systems.
Cigs for Drugs
In related news, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA) "in the coming days" plan to introduce legislation that would allocate up to $10 billion for providing prescription drug coverage through Medicare. A 70 cent cigarette tax would fund the benefit, CongressDaily/A.M. reports (Morrissey, 2/3).