Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle said this week that he is “skeptical and very pessimistic” that the Senate will be able to pass legislation this year adding a prescription drug benefit to Medicare. He says differences are too great between Republicans, who want a privately managed benefit, and Democrats, who want more government control.
But the door is not completely closed. Sen. Daschle said it is possible a drug benefit amendment could be attached to what many perceive as must-pass legislation: A “giveback” bill to reverse cuts in Medicare payment to doctors and hospitals that is worth an estimated $30 billion. Anything can happen after the budget rules governing congressional spending expire October 1.
Meanwhile, the Alliance for Retired Americans, a newly-founded, union-funded group, says that 44% of 600 seniors polled in August said passing a prescription drug benefit for Medicare should be a top legislative priority. And they want a plan run by government with low monthly premiums and no annual deductibles.
As though to answer back, the Atlanta Constitution editorializes today: Lawmakers cannot pass a Medicare drug benefit because they are being “held hostage” by seniors organizations that are “insistent that all seniors — already the nation’s wealthiest demographic group — have access to free or subsidized drug coverage.” This approach is “financially unrealistic and profoundly unfair to the 40 million other Americans without health coverage of any kind.”
And the last word is from Gary Andres, a former White House lobbyist writing in today’s Washington Times about a Medicare drug benefit: “Crafty GOP legislative moves, lack of consensus among Democrats, and market realities have transformed the issue from one of this year’s major political fire drills into an electoral false alarm.”
The New York Times already is beginning to shift the conversation, proclaiming that the next major health debate will be over how to help the uninsured. We’re ready with ideas on that as well.
*****Watch this space: Joseph Antos of the American Enterprise Institute has produced an excellent new paper (to which he has graciously added my name since he wrote it while I was viewing spectacular scenery in Alaska). It describes in detail problems with the prescription drug proposals already voted on in the Senate, and presents a more complete explanation of our Prescription Drug Security Card idea. We’ll be sending it out soon in a special issue of Health Policy Matters.
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