May 2, 2002
Dems, GOP Tout Competing Drug Plans
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Filed at 4:06 a.m. ET
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Democrats who control the Senate and the Republican majority in the House are offering competing election-year plans to provide prescription drug coverage for the nation's elderly.
Both are far more expensive than the program President Bush recommended, extra dollars that both parties hope will turn into votes in November's midterm congressional elections.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., said the Republicans hope to get their plan through the House by the end of May. In the Senate, Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., set a target of August for passage. Deeply partisan differences would have to be negotiated away before any legislation could go to Bush to be signed into law.
``Democrats are going to be pursuing this very aggressively,'' Daschle said Wednesday.
The Democrats' proposal would cost $400 billion to $500 billion over 10 years, the Republicans' $350 billion over the same period.
The president requested a prescription drugs plan that would cost $190 billion over 10 years. It featured government-issued prescription drug discount cards, designed to reduce the cost of medicine for Medicare beneficiaries, which congressional aides said the Republican program being developed is expected to include.
The Democratic proposal ``covers all the bases,'' said Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., co-sponsor of the Senate bill with Sen. Zell Miller, D-Ga. ``It is universal, comprehensive, affordable and accessible.''
The Graham-Miller plan would cover all older Americans and require a $25 monthly premium. There would be no deductible, and the government would pay 50 percent of the cost of a prescription. There would be a $4,000 cap on out-of-pocket expenses. After that had been met, the patient's drugs would be bought by the government.
The poorest elderly, those who earn below 135 percent of the poverty level, would pay no premiums or co-pays. Those at the next level, between 135 and 150 percent of poverty, would have reduced premiums and co-pays.
``There will be folks who say we can't afford it right now. To them I say we can't afford not to do it right now,'' Miller said.
Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which will draft the Senate legislation, called the proposal ``a critical step in the right direction.''
House Republicans plan to release their full proposal in coming days, and they used an event Wednesday to outline the framework. Rep. Bill Thomas of California, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, which is writing the bill with the Energy and Commerce Committee, offered some details.
``It's good enough it ought to be law,'' Thomas said. ``No more talking. It's time for action.''
Low-income older people would see a benefit immediately, while others would be phased in gradually, Thomas said.
Aides have said all but low-income elderly would pay monthly premiums, probably in the range of $37 a month. They also would pay deductible amounts that Thomas said he expected to be $250 a year. After that, the government would pick up 70-80 percent of the cost of drugs for the first $1,000 and 50 percent for the next $1,000.
Above $2,000, individuals could be required to pay full costs of additional drugs. Once an individual had paid $5,000, however, an out-of-pocket expense cap known as catastrophic coverage would kick in, and further drug costs would be covered by the government.
The plan is a significant shift from the $160 billion plan House Republicans offered two years ago. That plan's co-pays were higher, and it required a longer qualifying period for catastrophic coverage.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert: http://speaker.house.gov/
Senate Finance Committee: http://finance.senate.gov/