Published Aug 19, 2003
Governors Unified on Prescription Drugs
Mon Aug 18, 7:23 AM ET
By MIKE SMITH, Associated Press Writer
INDIANAPOLIS - The nation's governors are setting aside partisan rifts over other Medicaid reforms to unite behind a congressional plan to provide prescription drug benefits to low-income seniors.
Democratic and Republican governors still disagree over a broader overhaul of Medicaid, but for now want to focus on getting the federal government to take on the states' $7 billion burden of paying for prescription drugs for the 6.2 million Americans who receive both Medicare and Medicaid.
"I don't think too many of us felt like we were going to get comprehensive revision of the Medicaid program in this session of Congress," Kentucky Gov. Paul Patton, a Democrat who is chairman of the National Governors Association, said Sunday. "So you ask for everything and then you back off to the attainable."
The NGA formed a task force of governors earlier this year to come up with a blueprint for overhauling Medicaid, the joint state-federal health insurance program for the poor and disabled. But the group disbanded two months ago amid partisan feuding over how to fund the program.
Republicans favored a block-grant approach suggested by President Bush (news - web sites ), saying it would let states save money by creatively remaking their Medicaid programs. Democratic governors opposed that, saying it could leave states vulnerable by eliminating the guarantee of federal matching dollars.
"I think sometime later in the fall or early winter, we will have to reconvene in some way and refocus," said NGA Executive Director Raymond Scheppach.
House and Senate negotiators are trying to reconcile their versions of a new prescription drug benefit under Medicare, the federal health program for older and disabled Americans.
All 50 governors back the House bill, which would phase out over 15 years the states' obligations to pay drug costs. The Senate version would deny a Medicare drug benefit to people-dubbed dual eligibles-who also are enrolled in Medicaid.
Governors say many senior citizens on Medicaid spent their lives as working, middle-class citizens, and were forced onto the program because they have spent their life savings and need more medical care.
"We think as a matter of fundamental fairness that one group of Americans should not be moved into another class of benefits when they become poor because their illnesses have exhausted all of their resources," Patton said.
"We are simply asking that a federal program be paid for by the federal government," said Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, a Republican who is the NGA's incoming chairman.
The governors are facing large budget deficits and would save billions of dollars under the House version of the bill. But they also say the federal government is better poised to absorb drug costs for low-income seniors.
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