‘News Hour’ Highlights Bush Prescription Drug Plan
"The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" yesterday reported on President Bush's recently unveiled prescription drug plan and the opposition it faces from state and federal lawmakers (PBS, "NewsHour," 2/1). Bush's Immediate Helping Hand proposal would provide full drug coverage for seniors earning incomes up to 135% of the federal poverty level -- $11,600 for individuals and $15,700 for couples -- and partial coverage for those earning incomes up to 175% of the federal poverty line -- $15,000 for individuals and $15,700 to $20,300 for couples (California Healthline, 1/30). The plan would be administered by states, which would likely receive a total of $12 billion per year for four years to provide the benefit. But some states may be "leery" of implementing the program, "The NewsHour" reports. Urban Institute President Robert Reischauer said that states might not wish to "expend a lot of energy" on a complex program that "would quickly disappear." He added, "But of more concern to the states is that the program may not disappear after four years, that Congress and the president may not agree on long term Medicare reforms and [states] would, therefore, be having a permanent responsibility for drug assistance to the elderly and disabled." Reischauer said that Bush's plan might cause states to feel "increasingly pressured" by middle-class and upper middle-class seniors who want the same prescription drug coverage given to seniors with lower incomes. Senate Democrats are also suspicious of Bush's plan, arguing that it would be a "time-consuming distraction" that would draw attention and energy away from broader Medicare reforms. Sen. John Breaux (D-La.) said that while he wants to see prescription drug reforms adopted "as quickly as ... possibl[e]," he "is "convinced that the best way to do it is ... as part of Medicare reform." President Bush responded to opponents of his plan by saying that while he supports Medicare reform that includes a prescription drug benefit for all seniors, he wants to see quick action on the effort. "If the members of Congress on both sides of the aisle don't feel the same urgency that I feel ... on Medicare reform, then I feel [it's] very important for us to have an immediate helping hand," Bush concluded (PBS "NewsHour," 2/1).
"NewsHour" also profiled the nation's pharmacist shortage, spotlighting new efforts aimed at alleviating the problem. Demand for pharmacists has "explode[d]" and salaries in the field have "skyrocket[ed]" as a result of the lack of pharmacists. The demand for licensed pharmacists is spurred by the increasing demand for prescription drugs. J. Lyle Bootman, dean of the University of Arizona's College of Pharmacy and former president of the American Pharmaceutical Association, said that physicians will write about 12 prescriptions per individual in the United States this year, or about 2.8 billion to 3 billion prescriptions total. Staffing at pharmacies, however, cannot meet this demand. "NewsHour" reports that only 60% of graduates from pharmacy school go on to work at traditional pharmacies, with the rest choosing to conduct research at drug companies. In addition, pharmacists at pharmacies are often drawn away from dispensing medication by other tasks, such as dealing with insurance companies over drug coverage. Some pharmacists say that they spend 60% of their time interacting with insurers. In order to alleviate the shortage and to take some of the pressure off of existing pharmacists, hospitals and drug stores have begun to look for new ways to streamline pharmacists' duties and enlarge their staffs. Some hospitals and mail-order pharmacies have ordered "pharmacy robots," which help prevent medication errors and allow pharmacies to stay open 24 hours. In addition, several new pharmacy schools plan to open within the next few years, and others will expand their enrollment (PBS "NewsHour," 2/1). To listen to either "NewsHour" broadcast, go to http://www.pbs.org/newshour/health/prescriptions/index.html. Please note: You must have RealPlayer to listen to these reports.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.