Rx DRUG COSTS: House and Senate Dems to Announce Plan
Attempting to create a united front against House Republicans' prescription drug benefit plan, House and Senate Democrats will unveil today a Medicare drug plan, resembling President Clinton's proposed plan, the Washington Post reports. While Democrats have assailed Republicans for "not doing enough to provide drug coverage for Medicare recipients," they had not "coalesced behind a proposal of their own" until this week. The plan would cover half of seniors' drug costs, up to $5,000, but would offer more extensive coverage for out-of-pocket expenses for patients requiring "unusually large and expensive amounts" of medications. Medicare recipients would contribute a $25 monthly premium. The plan would cost slightly more than $200 billion over 10 years, compared to the $185 billion over 10 years estimate of the Clinton proposal. Democrats also plan to rely on "private regional networks to negotiate lower bulk rates with pharmaceutical companies." In contrast, Clinton's plan would not address "catastrophic" drug costs until 2006, setting aside $35 billion to do so -- a provision criticized by seniors groups. Democrats are confident that the unified proposal will strengthen their position with Republicans. John Feehery, spokesperson for House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) said that Republicans "would be willing to negotiate with Democrats ... this year" (Eilperin, 5/10).
At the same time, a bipartisan group of senators has proposed allowing medicines sold in foreign countries, such as Canada, to be imported. Under the plan, pharmacists, wholesalers and individuals would be permitted to import medicines sold in other markets, "including drugs that may have come from the same factory as products sold" in the United States. Only drugs approved by the FDA could be imported under the measure. The bill, which is similar to one introduced in the House last year, is backed by "key Republicans," including Sen. Jim Jeffords (Vt.), the bill's chief sponsor and chair of the Senate health panel (Murray, Wall Street Journal, 5/10).
Rx Coverage Declines
Researchers have released yet another study illustrating the "continued pressures many U.S. elderly face in getting access to needed medications." The number of Medicare beneficiaries with prescription drug coverage declined by more than 7% from 1998 to 1999. In 1998, 69% of Medicare recipients had prescription coverage, compared to 64% one year later. Additionally, 62% of recipients enrolled in a Medicare managed care plan had coverage last year, down from 74% in 1998 (Wall Street Journal, 5/10).