Wyden, Snowe to Reintroduce Medigap Rx Drug Bill
Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) plan to reintroduce a bill (S 1480 in the 106th Congress that would help seniors obtain prescription drug coverage, CongressDaily/AM reports. The bill differs from others in that seniors would be able to choose a plan from Medigap, the supplemental insurance program for Medicare beneficiaries, to provide drug coverage. The bill would also ensure that Medigap plans, which have "not been reformed in 10 years," includes catastrophic coverage for seniors who spend more than $3,000 per year out of pocket on prescription drugs. Under the overall bill, Medicare beneficiaries would access five prescription drug discount options through "private entities," paying a $350 annual deductible and a monthly premium based on annual income. The Wyden-Snowe plan is "based on private-sector competition" and would use guidelines similar to those used for the Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan. When they first introduced it in 1999, the plan's authors said that funding would rely on an increase in tobacco taxes (CongressDaily/AM, 7/17).
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In other Medicare news, Sen. Thomas Carper (D-Del.) announced yesterday that he is the first Democrat to co-sponsor a Medicare reform bill (S 358) sponsored by Sens. John Breaux (D-La.) and Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), known as "Breaux-Frist II." Carper is also a co-sponsor of Sen. Bob Graham's (D-Fla.) Medicare prescription drug bill (S 1135), and said that he hoped to work out a compromise that would combine the two bill. Under Breaux-Frist II, an "incremental" approach to Medicare reform, seniors could select from the traditional fee-for-service Medicare plan, competing private prescription drug coverage packages or a Medicare Prescription Plus Plan, which would include a standard drug benefit with a $250 deductible, cost-sharing for half of out-of-pocket drug costs up to $2,100 and catastrophic coverage for seniors spending more than $6,000 per year on out-of-pocket prescription costs. Seniors earning between 135% and 150% of the federal poverty level would pay a premium based on their incomes, while those earning more than 150% would receive a premium discount equal to 25% of the actuarial value of standard drug coverage each year. The Graham bill would create a voluntary drug benefit available to all seniors. To participate, seniors would pay a $250 annual deductible, after which the government would pay 50% of their prescription drug costs up to $3,500, 75% of costs between $3,500 and $4,000 and all costs after $4,000. Carper said, "Together, the Graham prescription drug bill and the Breaux-Frist [Medicare] reform bill tackle two of the most serious issues facing this Congress -- prescription drug coverage for our seniors and long-term solvency for our children." The Senate Finance Committee is working to create a Medicare reform bill of its own, which would "build on" the Graham and Breaux-Frist bills. That bill could move to markup as early as next week (CongressDaily, 6/16).