Wall Street Journal Examines Responses of Democratic Presidential Candidates To Medicare Reform Bills
The Wall Street Journal today examines the Democratic presidential candidates' strategies in response to the Medicare reform bills (HR 1 and S 1) passed by the House and Senate last month. Sens. Bob Graham (Fla.) and John Edwards (N.C.) and Reps. Richard Gephardt (Mo.) and Dennis Kucinich (Ohio) voted against the Medicare bills, while Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) said he would have voted against the measure if he had been in Washington for the vote. Sen. Joseph Lieberman (Conn.), who also missed the vote, is the only Democratic presidential candidate who said he supported the Medicare bill, although he said the legislation contains "substantial weaknesses," according to the Journal. Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean called the Medicare bills a "political trap" set by congressional Republicans (McGinley, Wall Street Journal, 7/8). The House and Senate Medicare bills would increase the participation of private plans in the program and give all beneficiaries an equal benefit. Under both bills, seniors would have access to a stand-alone drug benefit regardless of whether they are enrolled in traditional Medicare or in a private plan. Under the House bill, beneficiaries would pay an estimated average $35 monthly premium and a $250 annual deductible for drug coverage. The plan would cover 80% of beneficiaries' drug costs from $251 to $2,000 per year, after which there would be a gap in coverage before catastrophic coverage would take effect. The amount that a beneficiary would pay before qualifying for catastrophic coverage would be determined on a sliding scale based on income. Under the Senate bill, beneficiaries would pay a $275 annual deductible and an estimated $35 average monthly premium for the drug coverage. They would pay half of their annual drug costs from $276 to $4,500 and all drug costs between $4,501 and approximately $5,800. After about $5,800, beneficiaries would be required to cover 10% of their drug costs, with Medicare paying the remainder. Both bills would provide greater subsidies to low-income beneficiaries, although the approaches differ. The House measure also would establish direct price competition between traditional Medicare and private health plans beginning in 2010. The Senate bill would create a new coverage option called "Medicare Advantage," under which private plans would offer coverage for catastrophic health expenses and preventive care services in addition to the required Medicare benefits, giving beneficiaries an incentive to move out of traditional Medicare and into a private plan (California Healthline, 7/7).
Most of the major Democratic candidates are "blasting the drug benefit as full of holes and a dangerous step toward privatization," the Journal reports. In addition, they have attempted to "broaden the health care debate" to deflect attention beyond Medicare by "citing fundamental flaws in the overall health care system," according to the Journal (Wall Street Journal, 7/8). NPR's "All Things Considered" yesterday interviewed Gephardt, Kerry, Dean, Graham and Kucinich about their health care proposals (Wertheimer, "All Things Considered, NPR, 7/7). The segment is available online in RealPlayer.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.