Senate Democrats to Announce New Medicare Rx Benefit Plan
Senate Democrats today will unveil legislation to create a Medicare prescription drug benefit expected to cost up to $500 billion over six years, the Boston Globe reports (Kirchhoff, Boston Globe, 6/12). The measure, which builds on an earlier proposal by Sens. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) and Zell Miller (D-Ga.), is supported by Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), Majority Whip Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), giving it the full support of the Democratic leadership. Under the bill, which would likely take effect in 2004 and sunset in 2010, seniors would pay a $25 monthly premium with no deductible, a $10 copayment for generic drugs and a $40 copay for brand-name drugs. The bill would set a $4,000 ceiling on out-of-pocket expenses. The initial Graham-Miller proposal would have paid 50% of seniors' drug costs up to $4,000 and did not contain a tiered-drug copay structure. Under the new measure, low-income seniors would pay reduced premiums and beneficiaries with incomes below 135% of the federal poverty level would be exempt from premiums and copays. The benefit would be delivered by "multiple prescription benefit managers" (Fulton, CongressDaily/AM, 6/12). The bill "will mend the broken promise of Medicare by assuring that every senior citizen can afford the prescription drugs that their doctor prescribed," Kennedy said.
While Daschle is "trying to rally all Senate Democrats around the legislation," lawmakers "concede there is only a slim chance a prescription drug bill will become law this year," as the Democrats and Republicans are "leagues apart" on the cost and structure of a benefit, the Globe reports (Boston Globe, 6/12). On the House side, Republicans are still working on their Medicare reform package -- which includes a more modest and less expensive prescription drug benefit than the Democratic proposal -- and could introduce it as early as this week. But "GOP conservatives still are pushing for the inclusion of more Medicare reforms," CongressDaily/AM reports. A document prepared by staff members of the Republican Study Committee "suggests conservatives would like provisions to prohibit drug price controls; cap general fund contributions to Medicare at 40% of the total cost of the program; and require means testing for the drug benefit." Conservatives also are seeking a "trigger" mechanism to require greater structural reform if the drug benefit costs more than expected or if the Medicare insolvency date changes. The RSC document also suggests allowing seniors with private drug coverage to retain that coverage while obtaining a "government contribution equal to the amount they would get under the government plan" (CongressDaily/AM, 6/12). The House GOP leadership is hoping to vote on the package, which would cost about $350 billion over 10 years, by the July 4 recess (Boston Globe, 6/12).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.