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   Republican Medicare Prescription Drug Bill Is Meaningless and Inadequate for America's Seniors

VIEW FROM THE HILL:

Republican Medicare Prescription Drug Bill Is Meaningless and Inadequate for America's Seniors

by Congressman Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md.
The final vote on the Republicans' bill was 221 to 208, largely along party lines, with six legislators not voting. The bill was passed at about 2:30 a.m.
Early this morning [June 28], I voted against a Republican bill that dupes seniors into believing that help is on the way. Their plan has no guarantee of coverage, no defined benefit, and completely inadequate funding.

The Republican bill was designed to give political coverage to the GOP, rather than drug coverage to seniors. It will do nothing to give beneficiaries the help they need to pay for their medicines.

There are fatal flaws in the Republican proposal, which depends solely on private insurance companies to offer drug-only policies. History has shown that the private insurance market is not committed to seniors or the disabled. Congress created Medicare in 1965 because companies did not want to cover them. Since 1997, when insurance plans began to withdraw from Medicare, more than 2 million seniors have been abandoned by their HMOs.

Prescription drugs can mean the difference between life and death for seniors. I cannot understand why the GOP would gamble the lives of our seniors on an already-failed experiment. I offered an amendment in the June 18 Ways and Means Committee markup that would have established a universal, guaranteed plan within Medicare with a defined benefit, but it was rejected on a party-line vote.

By 2005, under the Republicans' plan, seniors will spend on average $3,059 annually on prescription drugs. For those seniors who can find a private plan, the GOP bill will only cover $680 toward those costs. The GOP plan does not define the monthly premium, has a $250 deductible, and requires a significant co-payment of up to $2,000. The plan also has a large "doughnut-hole"--a gap between $2,000 and $3,800 where seniors get no coverage. In addition, there is no guarantee that seniors can get the drugs their doctor prescribes, at the pharmacy of their choice.

I am an original co-sponsor of the House Democratic bill, which would provide seniors with a guaranteed, universally available prescription drug benefit. It includes a $25 monthly premium, a $100 annual deductible, 80% coverage up to $2,000, and 100% coverage after $2,000 in out-of-pocket expenses.

On average, seniors fill more than 18 prescriptions a year. To be meaningful, a plan must be available, affordable and comprehensive enough to meet their health care needs. The Republican bill fails all three tests.

I support provisions to increase Medicare payments to doctors, hospitals, rehabilitation therapists, and other health care providers. These are non-controversial reforms that nearly everyone agrees should be enacted without delay, and they are part of both the Democratic and Republican bills. Unfortunately, the Republicans chose to tack these important reforms onto a misguided and inadequate prescription drug plan.


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This story was published on July 3, 2002.
  
JULY 2002
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