Rx DRUGS: Roth to Introduce Short-Term Coverage Bill
In an attempt to reverse the lead Democrats hold on health care issues, Senate Finance Committee Chair William Roth (R-Del.) will today introduce legislation pledging "immediate" financial assistance in purchasing prescription drugs for low-income seniors, the Wall Street Journal reports. Essentially a short-term, "less expensive version" of Texas Gov. George W. Bush's proposed subsidy in his Medicare reform plan announced earlier this week, Roth's bill would cost $20 billion over five years and serve to "buy some political cover with the promise that Congress will continue to work toward larger Medicare reforms." Internal GOP polls show the Democrats with a 20-percentage-point lead on health-related issues, and Republicans "admit their private sector approach to expand drug coverage for seniors" -- which would subsidize insurance companies to deliver the benefit -- "has been a flop on the campaign trail." For those congressional Republican who "privately express concern about their party's fortunes this fall" in light of a now seemingly "rudderless" Bush campaign, Roth's effort may be the "best chance to score points on a political field dominated by Al Gore and congressional Democrats." But the year-end legislation faces significant obstacles, including potential Democratic delays on the bill unless the GOP agrees to an "expanded benefit" (VandeHei/Rogers, 9/7). Democrats may also try to attach the House-passed version of the patients' rights bill -- which is more expansive than the version passed by the Senate -- as an amendment to Roth's legislation, in hopes of keeping the latter bill from passing. A spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) said yesterday, "The question is, are Democrats going to use the bludgeon (of gun-control or the patients' bill of rights) to block a fair, middle-ground bill on prescription drugs?" (Fulton, CongressDaily/A.M., 9/7). Democrats, who are "reluctant to pass landmark legislation that would become an achievement of the Republican-led Congress," have been busy campaigning on the GOP's "failure...to act on the prescription drug issue" (Hosler, Baltimore Sun, 9/7).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.