Rx DRUG BENEFIT: Senate Finance Chair Spurns House GOP
With the prescription drug benefit battle shifting to the Senate, Finance Committee Chair William Roth (R-Del.) has broken ranks with House Republicans and plans to unveil a proposal that would offer prescription drug benefits to all Medicare recipients, the New York Times reports. The move "surprised and pleased" Senate Democrats and White House officials, who agreed it would "increase the chances of adding drug benefits to Medicare." During a closed session Wednesday, Roth will present his plan to the Finance Committee. The panel will debate the bill and vote on it later this month. In late June, the House narrowly passed a Republican-sponsored prescription drug measure that relies on private insurers, backed by government subsidies, to sell "drug-only" policies to seniors. Under Roth's proposal, however, "the government would bear the insurance risk and take responsibility for administering the benefit, as it does with the rest of Medicare," a Senate GOP aide said. Democrats favor Roth's plan, and several have agreed to work with the Delaware senator to pass the legislation, claiming that his efforts could "narrow the gap between the parties." According to Chris Jennings, health policy coordinator at the White House, if Roth has rejected the idea of subsidizing insurance companies to provide drug benefits, "that would be a very important step forward."
Senate Democrats Speak, Republicans Mute
Calling Roth's efforts "very significant," Sen. Richard Bryan (D- Nev.) said "[T]he chairman appears to have crossed the Rubicon and is embracing a prescription drug proposal within Medicare." Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) also lauded Roth's plan. "I am very pleased. ... He accepts the fact that prescription medication is a central part of the modern health care system, not the red- headed third cousin at the family picnic that's shuffled off to the side." Meanwhile, Senate Republicans offered no immediate reaction to Roth's proposal, neither "embrac[ing] nor reject[ing]" the plan. John Czwartacki, a spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.), said the senator had "no comment" on the issue (Pear, 7/12).