MEDICARE Rx BENEFIT: Clinton, GOP Trade Barbs on Plans
House Republicans announced yesterday plans to spend $40 billion over the next five years to help low-income seniors pay for prescription drugs, the Washington Post reports. Details of the plan have not been worked out, but Republicans would spend $2 billion on prescription drugs in the first year of the plan. Lawmakers reportedly are discussing "a competitive, market-based approach," rather than a drug benefit through Medicare. Republicans also are discussing tax credits, but "are less enthusiastic about giving block grants to the states." House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) said House Commerce Chair Tom Bliley (R-Va.) and House Ways and Means health subcommittee Chair William Thomas (R-Calif.) are working out a plan that Congress will vote on this spring. In a statement, House Republican Conference Chair J.C. Watts (Okla.) said it is "simply unacceptable" that 13 million seniors lack drug coverage, adding, "Republicans are committed to helping these most vulnerable seniors, offering a plan to get prescription drugs to them while, at the same time, preparing Medicare for the next generation of retirees."
A Similar Figure
The Republican plan is similar in cost to the $35 billion plan proposed by President Clinton. Under Clinton's plan, 50% of up to $5,000 of seniors' drug costs would be covered once the plan is fully implemented by 2009. Starting in 2003, seniors would pay monthly premiums of $24 that would double over six years. The proposal also includes an additional $35 billion over the last five years of the plan to assist seniors with "catastrophic drug expenses." Clinton questioned the Republican strategy of focusing on low-income seniors saying that many middle-class seniors also struggle with drug costs. He added that a Medicare drug benefit "would save the government money ... by encouraging use of prescription drugs that can prevent costlier hospital stays" (Eilperin, 3/14). Clinton also blasted a possible plan to extend tax breaks to the elderly, saying, "This proposal would benefit the wealthiest seniors, without providing any help to low- and middle-income seniors."
Republicans Fight Back
Republicans in turn, criticized Clinton for slowing Congressional efforts to provide a Medicare prescription drug benefit. House Ways and Means Chair Bill Archer (R-Texas) said, "One year ago this week President Clinton blocked a bipartisan plan to strengthen Medicare and help seniors get the drugs they need" (Pear, New York Times, 3/14). Watts added that Clinton "wants to create a big-government health system that offers no competition or options for individual states" (Washington Post, 3/14). While Clinton has not sent Congress legislation concerning his plan, White House officials said that he intends to send draft legislation to Congress soon (New York Times, 3/14).