Rx Drug Benefit, Patients’ Rights in Jeopardy
Despite last week's terrorist attacks, several lawmakers have indicated that Congress intends to press on with domestic issues, including health care, the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin reports (Heath, Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin, 9/18). Still, health aides and lobbyists believe that the only measures likely to prevail by the end of the year are those with "broad, bipartisan support," while debate on more contentious issues, such as a patients' bill of rights and Medicare reform, is "likely to be postponed," Bloomberg reports. Those measures with greater chances of passing include the allocating $28 billion over three years to reduce the number of the uninsured through tax credits and CHIP and Medicaid expansions; increasing Medicare reimbursement rates for rural hospitals; giving the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services greater discretion in choosing Medicare contractors; and allowing for the reimportation of U.S.-made prescription drugs (Hallam/Dixon, Bloomberg, 9/17). Congress last week set aside $40 billion for counter-terrorism programs and rebuilding lower Manhattan; with more spending in this area expected, other priorities will face increased budget pressures. Still, Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.) said, "You can't just sweep everything off the agenda. To say that we can just ignore the needs of our elderly or ignore the need for improved health care is, I think, irresponsible" (Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin, 9/18).
Enacting patients' rights legislation and a Medicare prescription drug benefit will still prove difficult, however, given the contentious nature of the issues and both parties' desire to show unanimity in the wake of last week's attacks. Christin Tinsworth, a spokesperson for the House Ways and Means Committee, said that the panel has postponed introducing a Medicare drug benefit bill -- which is estimated to cost up to $300 billion over ten years -- "until next month at the earliest." Jeff Myers, a lobbyist for Pharmacia Corp., said, "I went to dinner with some health staffers last night, and the general consensus was that we're done, thank you for playing. [A drug benefit] was in trouble to begin with." Similarly, it is uncertain the House and Senate will have time to reach a compromise on the patients' rights bills that each passed earlier this summer. "Anything that's going to move with any speed has to be bipartisan," Tinsworth said (Bloomberg, 9/17).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.