MEDICARE Rx COVERAGE: Democrats Balk as Details Emerge
As President Clinton prepares to unveil his Medicare reform proposal Tuesday, doubts are being voiced both in the administration and Congress that a prescription drug benefit is financially feasible. HCFA actuaries and federal health officials warned the administration that any premium for the drug benefit "would have to be at least as high as the existing premium for coverage of doctors' services, $45.50 a month." And House Democrats expressed fears that higher premiums would "alarm elderly voters," the New York Times reports. One lawmaker said, "Don't make us walk a plank that will blow up on us" (Pear, 6/25). Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) said, "For those who remember the experience with so-called catastrophic coverage several years ago, we don't want to focus attention on higher premiums" (Welch/Page, USA Today, 6/25).
The plan Clinton will outline Tuesday contains a drug benefit that would finance 50% of seniors' drug costs up to $2,500 to $5,000 per year. There would be no deductible, and the premium, according to White House aides, "will be more than $20 and less than the average $90 cost of drug coverage under a Medigap policy" (Welch/Page, USA Today, 6/25). The Wall Street Journal reports that Clinton will propose means-testing Medicare Part B premiums, a move that set off a "firestorm" among Democratic leaders, but "may also help convince Republicans that Mr. Clinton intends to work toward compromise." He will reportedly propose "higher premiums for single beneficiaries with incomes of more than $100,000 a year and married beneficiaries with incomes above $125,000. He will also propose that the $100 Part B deductible be raised to "keep pace with inflation" and that a co-pay be implemented for home health care (Cummings/McGinley, 6/25)