Rx DRUG COSTS I: Republicans Prepare for Bill Markup
House Republicans said yesterday that they "remain on track" for a Ways and Means session Monday to markup their proposal to extend drug coverage to Medicare beneficiaries and bring a vote to the floor next Friday, CongressDaily/A.M. reports. They also released more details about their plan. Despite promises to add Medicare "sweeteners" to woo lawmakers from rural states, the official proposal contains few concessions to rural legislators, who remain skeptical that the plan will provide coverage to their constituents. The bill does include an increase of $2.5 billion in Medicare payments to private managed care plans in rural areas and boosts the minimum Medicare payment to managed care plans by $18 per person each month in the first year. The GOP proposal also pays for the 1997 Balanced Budget Act's "blend" that increases payments in low-paid areas by combining those rates with national average rates. Under the proposal, areas paid lower than average rates would receive increases of 2.5% rather than the 2% available where Medicare payments are higher. Despite Rep. Tom Coburn's (R-Okla.) plea to address the larger issue of spiraling drug costs before tackling prescription coverage, the plan does not address drug prices directly. Ways and Means health subcommittee Chair Bill Thomas (R-Calif.), the plan's main author, asked, "Isn't that a slightly larger problem than making sure seniors at least get treated the same as everyone else?" GOP lawmakers also defended the plan's reliance on the private insurance industry to offer extended coverage. "To believe that there are not entities that will not find it attractive is to believe the marketplace doesn't work," Rep. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who represented the Commerce Committee in designing the plan, said (Rovner/Fulton, 6/16).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.