Thompson Asks House Committee for Action on Medicare Reform
Speaking before the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Health, HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson yesterday called on lawmakers to "move quickly on Medicare modernization," CongressDaily/AM reports. Thompson said, "We have a tremendous opportunity to improve Medicare. If we set aside our differences, we can get what everybody wants -- a strengthened Medicare program with prescription drug benefits for all." However, Republican and Democratic committee members raised concerns about President Bush's Medicare proposals, including a plan to provide seniors with prescription drug discount cards (Rovner, CongressDaily/AM, 7/27). Under the plan, the federal government would approve discount cards issued by pharmacy benefit managers, which would use the purchasing power of Medicare beneficiaries to negotiate with pharmacies and drug makers to reach discounts of between 15% to 25% off of drugs' retail prices. Participating PBMs would direct seniors to specific drugstores, create preferred drug lists, fill prescriptions by mail and operate telephone call centers to answer consumers' questions. To participate in the plan, seniors would pay a one-time enrollment fee not to exceed $25. Health subcommittee Chair Michael Bilirakis (R-Fla.) questioned the prescription drug card plan, saying, "We've all heard from our pharmacies ... that the burden of discounts will fall on them." Thompson defended the proposal, saying, "With the size of the Medicare population, pharmacy benefits managers (who will run the programs) will be able to go directly to the pharmaceutical manufacturers and get discounts." Energy and Commerce health subcommittee ranking member Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said that the Medicare reform "principles" Bush outlined earlier this month "don't add up," and "complained" that Bush's real intent is to force Medicare beneficiaries into private health plans (CongressDaily/AM, 7/27). Bush would transform fee-for-service Medicare into a system similar to private insurance, proposing among other changes that the program combine deductibles for inpatient and other care; pay a fixed amount of money per beneficiary and improve preventive care coverage.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.