Rx DRUG BENEFIT: Both Parties Exaggerate Their Plans
While Democrats and Republicans have spent a lot of time promoting their drug plans and explaining why their opponents' plans "won't work," those explanations haven't always been accurate, NPR's Julie Rovner reports. For example, on this Sunday's "Meet the Press," House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) gives the impression that only House Republicans are offering a "voluntary" plan, saying, "We want those seniors who are happy with what they have to have that respected and not be forced out of that and into some government program." But Rovner reports that President Clinton's plan also is voluntary and House Republicans differ particularly in that they would offer the benefit through private insurers, while Clinton would rely on the government. Rovner adds that Clinton's statement that the Republicans' plan is not a Medicare benefit is similarly misleading because Republicans are proposing drug coverage under Medicare. But Rovner says that "neither side is talking about" the one thing they have in common -- that they would not come close to providing the level of drug coverage most insured people under age 65 have. Rick Weisenstein, senior analyst with Charles Schwab Washington Research Group, said, "I think it's certainly fair to say [both plans are] being sold as more than they really are. I think [lawmakers have] given the impression to seniors that these are something similar to what the senior probably had in private insurance where they paid a $10 co-pay, and that's not at all what these plans are. These are much less generous than what the average worker in a full benefit-type program would have." Neither plan is very generous, particularly because they cannot afford to be, Weisenstein said, adding that "drugs are expensive, seniors tend to use more drugs and if you want to give a full benefit, it basically breaks the bank." Weisenstein also disputed that the discounts drug companies would be able to negotiate under either plan will significantly impact seniors. He said, "If the drug was $800 and you couldn't afford it and they save an amount of money that brings the cost down to $700, I'm not sure that makes it affordable necessarily." But even with all the back and forth, Rovner concludes that there are only a few weeks left in the legislative session, making it appear "increasingly unlikely elected officials will have anything enacted to offer voters in the fall" (NPR's "Morning Edition," 8/7).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.