Thompson ‘Confident’ Congress Will Approve Medicare Rx Benefit By Election Day
HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson said on Saturday that he is confident that Congress will approve a Medicare prescription drug benefit by the November elections and that the Bush administration supports a House Republican proposal to create such a benefit, the Washington Times reports. "The president feels very passionate about it and strong about it, and I hope that we're going to be able to get enough bipartisan support to really get good prescription drug coverage with a revised and strengthened Medicare proposal," Thompson said during an appearance on CNN's "Novak, Hunt & Shields." He said that the administration supports the $350 billion, 10-year plan outlined by House Republicans last week but is opposed to the $425 billion, eight-year plan offered by Sens. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) and Zell Miller (D-Ga.). "We're not willing to go that far," Thompson said, adding, "We feel we can get a very comprehensive proposal for $350 billion. That's what the House budget proposal said, and we feel we can do it with the kind of changes, the kind of choices that our seniors want across America."
Under the Republican plan, which Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) predicted will receive House approval by Memorial Day, Medicare beneficiaries would pay monthly premiums of $35 to $40, with a $250 annual deductible (Price, Washington Times, 5/5). Medicare beneficiaries would receive coverage for 70% to 80% of the first $1,000 of their annual prescription drug costs and coverage for 50% of their annual costs between $1,000 and $2,250. Seniors would have to cover 100% of their annual prescription drug costs between $2,250 and $5,000, but the legislation would cover 100% of annual costs of more than $5,000. The bill also would cover all drug costs for beneficiaries with annual incomes less than 135% of the federal poverty level, and seniors with annual incomes slightly more than that level would receive aid on a sliding scale. The Graham-Miller proposal calls for a $25 monthly premium with no annual deductible. Under the legislation, seniors would receive coverage for 50% of their annual prescription drug costs less than $4,000 and coverage for 100% of annual costs more than $4,000 (California Healthline, 5/2). "You know, it's easy to spend money when you don't have it, and that's the problem," Thompson said of the Democratic plan, adding, "There's not enough money around to satisfy all the concerns." Despite the differences between the two parties over the cost and delivery of a Medicare drug benefit, Thompson said he "absolutely" expects Congress to approve a bill before Election Day (Washington Times, 5/5). A transcript of Saturday's "Novak, Hunt and Shields" is available online.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.