MEDICARE Rx: Drug Coverage ‘Seen As a Long Shot’
Although the Republican leadership in Congress and President Clinton are offering "competing plans to improve prescription drug coverage for senior citizens," true reform on the issue is doubtful, the Associated Press reports. "There will be a very active debate this year on the issue and whether or not something actually gets enacted depends on how engaged the public gets," John Rother, director of public policy for AARP, said. Under the Clinton proposal, the government would contract with private health plans' pharmaceutical benefit managers. During Clinton's State of the Union speech Thursday, he said, "In good conscience, we cannot let another year pass without extending to all seniors the lifeline of affordable prescription drugs." Republicans, however, argue that Clinton's proposal would "waste government dollars" by replacing the private drug coverage that most seniors have with former employers, HMOs, or Medigap. "We're working on a responsible plan to make sure senior citizens have access to affordable prescription drugs. We don't want to jeopardize the good coverage that already exists," House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) said. In his rebuttal to Clinton's speech last week, Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said that the GOP wants to move quickly on legislation that would give Medicare beneficiaries a "limited contribution toward the purchase of approved private health plans," an idea most Democrats are against. The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America recently flip-flopped on its opposition of Medicare drug coverage, but it opposes the Democratic plan, and has exhumed the infamous TV campaign featuring "Flo," an arthritic senior who advocates the "bipartisan solutions" that the GOP favors. Prominent consumer groups, including Ralph Naders' Public Citizen and the Consumer's Union, which publishes Consumers Report, are siding with the Clinton plan. Gail Shearer, Consumer's Union health policy director, said, "With prescription prices rising at as much as 15% (annually), it's very important to pay attention to what kind of prices people are paying" (Love, 1/31).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.