War on Terrorism, Recession May ‘Sideline’ Medicare Rx Drug Issue, Advocates Fear
While a Medicare prescription drug benefit was a "top item" on Capitol Hill earlier this year, advocates for congressional action worry that the war against terrorism, a "slumping" economy and expected federal budget deficits will push the issue to the "sidelines," the Newark Star-Ledger reports. According to Mitch Daniels, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, the fight against terrorism has rendered all other issues "secondary." Daniels predicts that the recession and spending on anti-terrorism efforts will produce federal deficits "for at least the next three years." A Medicare prescription drug benefit -- once a Bush administration campaign promise -- still "remains an important priority for the President," Ari Fleischer, White House spokesperson, said. However, Fleischer has "sought to dampen expectations," the Star-Ledger reports. "Clearly, anything dealing with large spending increases, particularly the creation of new entitlements, has to be done with an eye toward what is achievable," Fleischer said. John Feehery, a spokesperson for House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), said he expects the debate to resume next year. "The speaker still wants to work on it ... but obviously it will be more difficult," Feehery said. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) said that the "pressure will build" for a prescription drug benefit. "As much as people are concerned about the war against terrorism, people are also concerned about domestic issues and will demand we pass some kind of benefit," Pallone said, adding "I don't see it going away." Even if the debate resumes and the money for a prescription drug benefit becomes available, partisanship may impede congressional negotiations, according to John Rother, policy director for AARP. The prescription drug issue "is something all sides agree needs to be addressed but the question is how. There may be a temptation in Congress for each side to stick with its own preferred position and not budge," Rother said (Cohen, Newark Star-Ledger, 12/16).
The Medicare prescription drug benefit issue is just one of many health care issues that may "come back to haunt legislators," CongressDaily/AM reports. According to Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), "The same issue that were important this year will be important next year." CongressDaily/AM reports that advocates will likely "rekindle" proposals having to do with the uninsured, Medicare reimbursements to providers, bioterrorism preparedness, patients' rights and re-authorizing drug fees to the FDA for expedited approval of new drugs. With a weak economy and the possibility of an ongoing war, the scope of Congress' ability to address the issues remains a "key question." However, with education and tax cuts "essentially done," there is "more room for health care ... on the agenda," according to Rep. Ernie Fletcher (R-Ky.). In addition, congressional observers note that the "political desire" to return to the issues "will be strong," because lawmakers "want to have either victories or important issues to talk about when election season arrives," CongressDaily/AM reports (Fulton, CongressDaily/AM, 12/17).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.