MEDICARE Rx: Clinton Fires Back at Drug Industry
President Clinton will launch a renewed "political offensive" against the prescription drug industry today, accusing drug makers of "charg[ing] too much" and "grossly misrepresent[ing] his proposal" to provide coverage for all Medicare beneficiaries, the New York Times reports. At a news conference this morning, Clinton hopes to head off recent efforts by the drug industry to kill his Medicare prescription drug plan through a Congressional letter-writing campaign and a series of advertisements that claim the proposal would allow government to "meddle in [seniors'] medicine chests[s]." Said Joel Johnson, a senior White House adviser, "We have reluctantly concluded that the pharmaceutical industry has chosen the path of confrontation rather than cooperation. The president extended an olive branch to the industry. They snapped it off. Their ad campaign is evidence of that." In an effort to confirm that "elderly people who buy more drugs on their own pay much higher prices than favored customers like HMOs and the Federal Department of Veteran Affairs," Clinton today also will direct HHS Secretary Donna Shalala to conduct a 90-day study of seniors' drug costs. Fearful that the Clinton plan would impose "federal price controls, which could reduce revenues and thus the resources they need for drug research," drug companies have recently produced a series of critical ads, which they say are "utterly accurate." But Clinton called the campaign a "multimillion-dollar scare" tactic that spreads several myths. The president says his plan would not regulate drug prices or dictate to doctors which drugs they can prescribe. In addition, the drug benefit plan, which would pay half a beneficiary's expenses up to $1,000 in 2002 and $2,500 in 2008, is "purely optional," allowing seniors to retain private drug coverage, he said. Although Republicans have dropped consideration of a drug benefit this year, most "have said they see a need for Medicare drug benefits" but want to begin with low-income beneficiaries. However, citing a recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation showing that large employers are less often offering retirees health benefits, AARP maintains that "all beneficiaries, regardless of income," should receive the benefit (Pear, 10/25).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.