Three New Medicare Prescription Drug Bills Introduced
Rep. Tom Allen (D-Maine) and Sen. Timothy Johnson (D-S.D.) have introduced legislation (S 125) that would require pharmaceutical companies that sell drugs to Medicaid and the Veterans' Administration to offer "deep discounts" to Medicare beneficiaries. CongressDaily/A.M. reports that the bill, called the "Prescription Drug Fairness for Seniors Act of 2001," would require companies to base prices on the average price of drugs in Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom. Allen said that doing so could provide as much as a 40% discount off current prescription prices. Introducing the bill at a press conference yesterday, Democrats said the legislation was necessary because it appears "unlikely" that funding will be available for a Medicare drug benefit after "Congress finishes cutting taxes." Allen added, "If we're not going to do a benefit right away, we should do a discount for our struggling seniors" (Rovner, CongressDaily/A.M., 4/5). Martha McSteen, president of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, endorsed the legislation, saying, "This bill will provide a measure of relief to the millions of seniors for whom buying prescription medicines is a financial burden" (NCPSSM release, 4/4). The pharmaceutical industry, however, opposes the bill, noting that the legislation requires the discounts to go through pharmacies, which does not guarantee that savings reach Medicare beneficiaries. Jackie Cottrell, spokesperson for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, said, "Seniors don't need discounts, seniors need drug coverage." She added that in some instances, "discounts would not be enough" to help seniors with drug costs (CongressDaily/A.M., 4/5).
Also on Wednesday, Rep. Greg Ganske (R-Iowa) introduced a $70 billion to $80 billion, 10-year plan (HR 1387) to help low-income seniors with prescription drug costs. Under his plan, seniors with annual incomes of 175% of the federal poverty level, or $15,000, would have access to state Medicaid programs that provide prescription drug coverage. He said his bill offers an alternative to a drug benefit because at least 50% of seniors have prescription drug expenses of less than $1,000 per year and thus, would be "unlikely" to enroll in a benefit "for which they would have to pay substantial premiums." A second provision of his bill would allow U.S. retailers to reimport prescription drugs from other countries, the Des Moines Register reports. Ganske's bill also would "raise the floor" for Medicare managed carea reimbursements to increase the number of MCOs participating in Medicare in rural states (Norman, Des Moines Register, 4/5).
Meanwhile, on behalf of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) introduced a "comprehensive" Medicare prescription drug benefit package -- called the Medicare Extension of Drugs to Seniors Act (HR-1512) -- which would "provid[e] the strongest benefit to the most seniors of any plan" in Congress, according to a Progressive Caucus press release. The bill, which has 24 co-sponsors, would "bring American prices" for pharmaceuticals "into line" with prices abroad through drug reimportation. In addition, the legislation would require drug companies to return "taxpayer funded" pharmaceutical research "to consumers in the form of reasonable prices." The plan would cover 80% of all seniors' drug costs (Congressional Progressive Caucus release, 4/4). To view an outline of the MEDS plan, go to http://progressive.house.gov/briefs/medsplanblueprint.pdf. Note: You must have Adobe Acrobat Reader to view the plan.