Rx DRUG BENEFIT: New York Times Examines Rival Plans
Amidst the "white-hot" political debate surrounding a Medicare prescription drug benefit, Texas Gov. George W. Bush (R) and Vice President Al Gore (D) have offered competing proposals, but the details have become a "confusing muddle of partisan charges and countercharges" with both sides "invoking the standard bogeymen of health care," the New York Times reports. In a front-page story, Sunday's Times detailed both candidates' plans. Under Bush's 10-year, $158 billion plan:
- Seniors making about $11,000 or less would receive full coverage for monthly premiums, while seniors making $14,600 or less would receive partial coverage;
- The federal government would finance 25% of premiums for remaining Medicare patients, including a "catastrophic coverage" provision that would cover prescription drug costs higher than $6,000 per year for any senior;
- States would receive $48 billion to immediately subsidize drug coverage and doctors, and the remaining $110 billion would be used to purchase prescription drugs.
- Seniors making about $11,000 or less would receive full coverage for premiums and coinsurance, while seniors making $12,500 or less would receive partial coverage;
- The government would finance 50% of premiums for remaining Medicare patients, including a "catastrophic coverage" provision that would cover prescription drug costs higher than $4,000 per year for any senior;
- The government would finance 50% of annual drug costs up to $2,000 in 2002, rising to $5,000 in 2008.
Denver Post Probes Plans
The Denver Post also compared Bush's and Gore's prescription drug benefit plans, warning, "don't look for quick solutions or a complete fix." According to the Post, both candidates will "phase in" their multi- billion dollar proposals over 10 years, and "some say that won't be enough." Brookings Institution health policy analyst Henry Aaron said, "Let's be frank. Both of the candidates have shoehorned a lot of their plans into projected budget surpluses." Bush's drug benefit plan relies "increasingly" on the private sector, while Gore would deliver the benefit through expanding the Medicare program. Medicare reform, including a prescription drug benefit, has towered as the "marquee" issue in this election. The government allowed Medicare beneficiaries to purchase prescription drug coverage through HMOs in 1997, but premiums have "skyrocketed" and many managed care plans have exited the Medicare program, citing low reimbursement rates. According to a Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation study, 34% of Medicare beneficiaries had no drug coverage this year, up from 31% in 1996. "People are feeling it in their pocketbooks, even in these good times, regardless of whether their employer is paying for it or they're seniors who are feeling it more because they're taking [more] prescription drugs," Georgetown University health policy expert Michael Gluck said. In a poll of 500 likely voters in Colorado, 43% of respondents favored Gore on health care issues, while 33% supported Bush (Austin, Denver Post, 10/1).