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A Publication of WTVP

Over the past several years, the implementation of a prescription drug program under Medicare has become a priority issue for many members of Congress. In 2000 the Republican-led House of Representatives understood the importance of this issue and passed a prescription drug program. This year, the House once again took the lead in providing a drug benefit for our nation’s seniors. The House bill is a responsible plan that will provide a benefit to any Medicare recipient who wants to participate.

The budget outline passed by the House earlier this year calls for $350 billion to be spent on prescription drug coverage over the next 10 years. In late June the House passed a bill that provides the details of that coverage: the Medicare Modernization and Prescription Drug Act of 2002. This bill addresses the long-sought goals of strengthening Medicare and adding a prescription drug benefit.

A stable health plan is a cornerstone to a secure retirement. While prescription drugs have helped millions of senior citizens improve their quality of life, the costs of medicine have also skyrocketed—putting a particular pinch on those living on a fixed income. No senior should have to choose between prescription drugs and putting food on the table.

The bill we passed in the House includes an affordable, permanent prescription drug benefit with an average premium of $35 per month. The bill also includes a standard benefit that would begin with a $250 deductible and pay 80 percent of spending up to the first $1,000 and 50 percent up to the second $1,000. Seniors who meet the low-income criteria (50 percent of seniors currently without coverage) would pay less than $5 per prescription, up to coverage limits. All participants are protected against catastrophic costs, with out-of-pocket expenditures capped at $3,800 per year. An estimated 94 percent of eligible seniors in this country would participate in this plan in the first year, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

According to a recent report by the Department of Health and Human Services, “The House Republican plan would provide real relief for seniors and disabled Americans. Those who now pay full retail prices would typically see the costs of each prescription cut by 60 to 85 percent, and their overall out-of-pocket drug costs would fall by as much as 70 percent—in exchange for a stable and affordable premium starting at $35 per month.”

Seniors need to be protected. The plan passed by the House will lower the cost of prescription drugs so senior citizens can better afford the medicines they need to live healthier and improve their quality of life. I feel one of the key points in the legislation is the guarantee that all senior citizens will be eligible for prescription drug coverage. We must provide a prescription drug benefit under Medicare, with additional assistance for low-income seniors and those facing runaway drug costs because of long-term illness.

A fair and responsible Medicare plan must give senior citizens more power to choose what’s best for them. The House plan promotes preventive medicine, includes an affordable and voluntary prescription drug benefit, strengthens the Medicare+ Choice program, and lowers overall health care costs.

I will continue to work hard until we get a bill signed into law that provides voluntary prescription drug coverage for all seniors. It’s important to note President Bush supports the House Republican prescription drug coverage plan. Seniors need and deserve life-saving medicine. That is why the Senate must put politics aside and pass a realistic plan like the House has done.

A prescription drug coverage program will bring Medicare into the 21st century. If the Senate works with the House, we can make prescription drugs affordable and available through a voluntary program. The winners will be seniors and those who need life-saving medicine. Strengthening Medicare and providing a prescription drug benefit for seniors is too important of an issue to wait any longer. IBI

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