Medicare Rx Drug Benefit Issue Resurfaces After Hiatus
Increased prescription drug costs and election-year politics have moved the debate over a prescription drug benefit for Medicare beneficiaries -- an issue "put on hold" after the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon -- "back on the front pages," the New York Times reports. Amanda McCloskey, director of health policy analysis for the consumer advocacy group Families USA, said that the "anger among seniors over this issue is building again as the events of Sept. 11 recede." She added, "Many seniors are desperate over trying to afford prescription drugs" (Brock, New York Times, 4/7). Karen Davis, president of the Commonwealth Fund, said, "[W]e find a fourth of Medicare beneficiaries go without a needed prescription due to the cost. The people hit hardest are the poorest and the sickest" (Dorschner, Miami Herald, 4/7). Families USA estimates that about one-third of Medicare beneficiaries do not have prescription drug coverage. Henry Aaron, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, predicted that lawmakers may use a prescription drug benefit as the "sugar coating for an otherwise bitter pill in overhauling Medicare," which could increase copayments and premiums for higher-income beneficiaries. "Politicians haven't really gotten serious about prescription drug coverage," Aaron said, adding, "But they're good at reading the grass roots; this issue could become a very lively one" (New York Times, 4/7).
A San Francisco Chronicle editorial states that the "spiraling price of drugs is likely to become a major campaign issue during the 2002 and 2004 election cycles." The editorial states that "Americans are profoundly ambivalent" about the pharmaceutical industry, pointing out that they "love the medical miracles" developed by drug companies but "hate outrageous drug prices. We want price controls, but we don't want to undermine the industry's ability to conduct research." Although most lawmakers agree that "skyrocketing drug prices cannot continue" and that they "must respond to growing consumer complaints," the editorial states that they have not reached a "political solution" to the issue. The editorial concludes that a proposal to address increased prescription drug costs must "reward the inventiveness of the pharmaceutical industry and ensure that prescription drugs are affordable to all Americans" (San Francisco Chronicle, 4/7).