USA Today Op-Eds Address Proposals To Add a Prescription Drug Benefit to Medicare
With the Senate set to debate several Medicare prescription drug benefit proposals next week, a USA Today editorial says that the plans being offered in Congress are "at best, partial solutions" that are not financially viable (USA Today, 7/19). The House last month passed a 10-year, $350 billion Republican-sponsored bill that would allow Medicare beneficiaries to purchase prescription drug coverage directly from private insurance companies. Senate Democrats have proposed an eight-year, $500 billion bill that would provide a prescription drug benefit as part of Medicare coverage. In addition, a tripartisan group of senators has proposed a $330 billion, 10-year bill similar to the legislation passed in the House (California Healthline, 7/18). The editorial calls the proposals "unrealistically priced" options that are "seriously flawed" and lack "workable tools for cost containment" that may result in more costs for taxpayers. The editorial continues, "[T]he history of government health programs is that costs quickly outrun all projections. ... Any new drug program isn't likely to break that mold, especially when both sides' mechanisms for controlling costs are based primarily on hope." The editorial concludes that "neither lawmakers nor seniors themselves have been willing to honestly confront the viability or price tag of any plan. Until they do, there may be a perverse silver lining to the frustrating partisan standoff that has blocked action so far" (USA Today, 7/19).
In a counterpoint piece to the USA Today editorial, Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.), a member of the Senate Finance Committee Subcommittee on Health Care and lead sponsor of the Senate Democrats' prescription drug plan, says there are "three principles that should shape" a benefit: whether it is comprehensive; if it has a reliable delivery system; and how much a useful benefit would cost. Although the Democrats' plan "seems expensive," Graham says that the "reality is that the cost of prescription drugs is rising and the number of seniors who need these drugs will continue to rise, too." He concludes, "To spend any less than [Senate Democrats] have allocated would be to offer an empty promise to our nation's seniors" (Graham, USA Today, 7/19).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.