Rx DRUG COSTS: Day Two of Bickering Over Republican Plan
Marking the second consecutive day of "partisan sniping" over House Republicans' Medicare prescription drug plan, Democrats "intensified their criticism" of the proposal, while some Republicans exhibited caution, the Hartford Courant reports. House Republicans have proposed a plan that would depend on private insurers offering coverage with varying premiums. During a House Commerce health subcommittee meeting, Rep. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) led the attack against the proposal, saying that it leaves seniors "to search for private coverage [and] means varying premiums and varying levels of restrictiveness on access to prescription drugs." HCFA Administrator Nancy-Ann DeParle also criticized the proposal, charging that it "could lead to segmenting the prescription drug market in such a way that sicker beneficiaries could not afford coverage" (MacDonald, 6/15). President Clinton also took a shot at the House Republicans' plan yesterday, saying that the administration has "grave concerns" about the plan because it relies on a "flawed private Medigap insurance market" and a "trickle-down scheme that would provide a subsidy for insurers and not a single dollar of direct premium assistance for middle-class seniors." He added that a "voluntary prescription drug benefit is not just the right thing to do; medically speaking, it's the smart thing to do" (White House release, 6/14).
Going Against the Grain
In a move that "may dent Republican unity," Rep. Tom Coburn (R- Okla.) said Wednesday he would not support the House Republicans' proposal because he believes "drug pricing must be addressed first." He said, "Everybody's jumping off on a drug benefit," but "without addressing pricing issues first, drug prices would continue to rise because there would be a guaranteed buyer." Coburn said he will ask Attorney General Janet Reno to investigate price collusion among drug companies, adding, "There is no question that there is collusion here. Drug prices for existing drugs -- not new drugs -- have gone up 48% in the last few years." Other conservatives have raised questions about the proposal because it does not rely entirely on the private sector to provide the benefit. Coburn suggested yesterday that other conservatives might join him in opposing the plan, but implied that "many members were more concerned with re-election than addressing high drug prices problems."
In the Other Chamber ...
At the same time, the Senate Finance Committee still is addressing prescription drug prices as part of a larger Medicare reform package. The committee's plan includes private insurer competition, governance issues and solvency, as well as provisions for modernizing Medicare's fee-for-service program and improving benefits. As for prescription drugs, the committee's plan includes seven options, ranging from Clinton's plan to a low-income block grant that would add coverage directly to the Medicare Part B program. Finance Chair William Roth (R-Del.) said, "It is my hope that [the committee meetings] will result in a bipartisan proposal for Medicare reform. If we can reach a consensus, we will mark up legislation in July" (Fulton, et al., CongressDaily/A.M., 6/15).