‘Real Battle’ Ahead for Bush’s Rx Drug Plan
President Bush "can expect a real battle" over his Medicare prescription drug benefit plan, which he intends to introduce to Congress today, the Washington Post reports. Bush's plan, known as "Immediate Helping Hand," would give states $48 billion over four years to cover the "full cost of drugs for the poorest senior citizens and part of the cost for those who are slightly better off." Bush also favors paying 25% of premium costs for drug coverage for all seniors (Allen, Washington Post, 1/29). During the four-year period, Bush intends to overhaul the entire Medicare program to give seniors a choice of health plans; through which they would get continued prescription drug coverage (Lindlaw, AP/Akron Beacon Journal, 1/29). But Bush is expected to encounter difficulty in promoting his plan, as both Republicans and Democrats are pushing for a "broad overhaul of Medicare." Democrats also want a prescription benefit available immediately for all seniors, while Republicans "fear there would be little incentive for structural changes to Medicare if a prescription drug benefit was already in place" (Washington Post, 1/29). "Critics ... question the wisdom of creating a whole new web of programs that would disappear four years later," the AP/Beacon Journal reports (AP/Akron Beacon Journal, 1/29). However, the plan will include a message that Bush "would consider broader Medicare changes that might speed" chances of setting up a benefit for all seniors, the Post reports. A White House official said, "We understand that there are many on the Hill who believe [a prescription drug benefit] should be done as part of comprehensive Medicare reform, and we will be open-minded on that." The Post notes that this "change" represents "Bush's willingness to alter details of his programs to achieve his broad goals in a Congress where Republicans hold tissue-thin control" (Washington Post, 1/29).
The health care sector "will have a much easier time with Bush than it did with President Clinton," who favored price controls, Investor's Business Daily reports. Ken Laudan, a health care analyst for Robinson-Humphrey, said, "I don't think the industry faces the possibility of new hostile regulations, nothing that threatens the bottom line like the 1993 proposals. Bush does not favor strict regulation, and he has a hands-off attitude about the big drug companies." Lui-Er Chen, manager of the Evergreen Health Care Fund, added, "There will certainly be no effort to control pricing from the White House or from Republicans in Congress. That, for me, is the biggest victory for health care, because nothing could hurt this sector as badly as price controls. Al Gore had threatened during the campaign to fight for controls, but there will be nothing like that under Bush" (McKenna, Investor's Business Daily, 1/29).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.