- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 2, 2000

A new poll finds that elderly people trying to cope with increasing prescription drug costs prefer a Republican-sponsored Senate bill that would give them a flat deductible over the administration's plan, which involves a monthly premium.

The poll results, released yesterday by polling group Zogby America, shows 68 percent of seniors surveyed favoring a bill introduced in March by Republican Sens. Robert C. Smith of New Hampshire and Wayne Allard of Colorado.

If approved, the plan would combine the two deductibles now paid by recipients, which can total $876 a year, into one deductible of $675. This would include all hospitalization and medicine.

Mr. Clinton's $185 billion, 10-year proposal is aimed solely at prescription drugs and would cost patients $24 a month when it first took effect in 2003. It is based on a graduating scale that would increase that payment to $51 a month by 2009.

Chris Jennings, the health policy coordinator at the White House, disputed the information pollsters gave to respondents.

"This is a misleading and inaccurate portrayal of the president's proposal," Mr. Jennings said. "This Republican proposal would significantly increase out-of-pocket costs for physician services, and beneficiaries would get no drug benefits until they spend $675 on health care."

Contrary to information given to those polled, the president's plan would have no deductible, he added.

Sen. Smith's plan, by combining deductibles, would simplify the labyrinth of health care bureaucracy, insisted press secretary Karen Hickey.

"And it would start next year," Miss Hickey said. "[The president's plan] isn't even in full effect until 2009."

The bickering is by now typical on an issue that touches the nearly 40 million Americans who rely on Medicare.

Congress has been pressed to come up with a plan that can ease the financial burden rising drug costs have placed on the elderly.

House Republicans, after lengthy evening meetings that also involved some interparty rancor, announced in April a $40 billion plan that combined government subsidy with private health care coverage.

The idea was assailed by private health insurers, who insisted the idea would financially cripple them.

Supporters in the House hope the plan will be ready to be introduced as a bill by Memorial Day.

Democrats also attacked the proposal for its lack of detail and said Republicans were trying to make prescription health care for the elderly into a partisan battle.

The idea of a feasible plan is especially sensible for Republicans. More than half of voters over 60 years old voted Republican in the 1998 election.

"The question is, can you bridge an agreement?" Mr. Jennings said. "We're not saying that our policy is the only policy. But we do want something that is affordable and accessible."

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