The Medicare program does not currently cover outpatient prescription drugs. With pharmacy prices skyrocketing, this has become a huge election year issue, particularly among seniors who vote in large numbers.
On the pharmacy issue, the Democrats have been on the offensive. The Clinton/Gore administration has proposed a new drug benefit. The Democrats in Congress have put passing a standalone drug benefit high on their priority list.
Republicans seem conflicted on the issue. On one hand, they see the political imperative to add a needed pharmacy benefit to a Medicare program created in 1965 when drugs were a minor part of a system that revolved around long hospital stays. On the other hand, most Republicans see the Medicare system first in need of fundamental change.
Many of these Republicans question the wisdom of adding a huge new entitlement before the program is reformed. They point to past estimates that projected that Medicare would go bankrupt when the baby boomers retired if something fundamental wasn’t done.
But, it’s an election year. Many Republicans don’t want to look like the spoilers while Clinton and Gore argue that the substantial budget surpluses and increasingly better future estimates on the program’s solvency give us the money needed to keep Medicare solvent and fund a new prescription drug plan.
Whatever their doubts, Republicans joined Democrats this spring in coming out with a new Medicare prescription drug plan.
The Democrats’ Approach
At a White House ceremony this spring, the Senate Democratic leadership announced that they had reached a consensus on the kind of Medicare prescription drug benefit that should be passed this year. The principles, which Senate Democrats argue clearly match the Clinton/Gore proposal, include developing a drug program that is:
effective in lowering prices by giving seniors more bargaining power
consistent with any broader fundamental Medicare reforms
The Clinton/Gore Medicare pharmacy plan includes:
Making prescription drug coverage available to all Medicare beneficiaries on a voluntary basis. Enrollees could purchase the new “Part D” coverage just as they now purchase the physician portion of Medicare — Part B — by electing the coverage and paying a premium. Those receiving Medicare benefits through an HMO Medicare program would have the option of purchasing their drug benefits from their HMO.
A beneficiary premium designed to cover 50 percent of the drug program’s costs. In the program’s first year, 2011, the consumer cost is estimated to be $26 per month. By 2011, the cost is expected to rise to $51 per month.
Tags: boomers, pharmacy, prescription drug