Rx DRUG BENEFIT: Nevada Plan a Bad Omen for GOP Bill
Although last year Nevada adopted Senior Rx, a prescription drug program similar to the Republican bill the House approved in June, the plan's "ominous start" offers only dark forebodings for the future of the GOP measure, the New York Times reports. Insurance companies have spurned Nevada's invitation to provide coverage to low-income seniors, arguing that risks and costs outweigh the subsidies offered by the state. Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn (R) signed the legislation in June 1999. In March 2000, the state "invited hundreds of insurance companies to bid for its business," but only one firm responded. The state revised its invitation and reissued it in June with an Aug. 29 deadline. According to state Assemblywoman Barbara Buckley (D), co-chair of a task force monitoring the program, many uncertainties still remain. "I have my doubts that an insurance company will be able to offer meaningful drug benefits under this program. If an insurance company does bid on it but the benefits are paltry, senior citizens will be up in arms," Buckley said. Ed Fend, another member of the task force, said he presumed insurers showed little interest in the plan "because they don't think they can make any money. If they thought they could make a reasonable amount of money, they would probably buy into the program."
Benefit of Doom
The "rocky start" of the Nevada program may spell doom for congressional Republicans who want to subsidize insurance companies to provide drug benefits to Medicare patients, a move questioned by both Democrats and insurance companies. As Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) asks, "Why in the world ... would [Congress] try to replicate [the Nevada program] for the millions of seniors who are desperately in need of affordable prescription medications?" The Health Insurance Association of America also has repeatedly told Congress that its members have no interest in selling "drug only" policies to the elderly. While House Republicans insist that government subsides will attract insurers, the Nevada experiment raises questions about that argument. The state offered millions of dollars, but insurance companies remained "skittish" (Pear, 7/8).