- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 29, 2002

The House passed a Republican prescription-drug and Medicare reform bill early yesterday morning, shifting the issue to the Democratic-controlled Senate, where a more expensive, differently structured bill is likely to emerge.
"With today's vote the Congress is delivering on a much-needed, well-deserved entitlement for America's seniors," said House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Billy Tauzin, Louisiana Republican. "This critically important new benefit will mean permanent prescription-drug access, lower drug costs and a limit on catastrophic drug expenses."
Eight Republicans voted against the House GOP measure, and eight Democrats voted for it.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle said the House's vote on the bill taken just hours before members went back to their districts for the July Fourth recess was "clearly a move to cover themselves politically."
The South Dakota Democrat criticized the bill as a "sham" that provides inadequate drug coverage and chastised House Republicans for not allowing House Democrats to offer an alternative bill on the floor.
The House bill, passed 221-208, is estimated to cost $349 billion over 10 years and would create a voluntary prescription-drug program for Medicare beneficiaries.
Some members, including Rep. Ray LaHood, Illinois Republican, doubted whether any prescription-drug legislation would pass into law this year. He said he does not see how House Republicans and Senate Democrats will be able to reconcile their bills in terms of both a price tag and how the drug benefit is structured and delivered.
Mr. Daschle said he wants to bring the Senate prescription-drug bill to the floor by July 15 but that the Senate would take "opposite approaches" from the House, "both substantively and procedurally."
"There's no way to get a perfect bill, from our perspective," said Mr. Daschle, who may have trouble getting senators to back one proposal. "But I want to avoid getting no bill, too. I'd really like to get legislation passed this year."
The main Senate proposal is sponsored by Democratic Sens. Edward M. Kennedy, of Massachusetts, Bob Graham of Florida and others, and would cost $500 billion over seven years. It would have to be reauthorized after even years, which House Republicans oppose.
"It is just something that is pretty much window trapping," House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, said of the plan.
The Senate Democrats' bill, co-sponsored by Mr. Daschle, would set a $25 monthly premium for beneficiaries, but there would be no deductible. Participants would have co-payments of $10 to $60 per prescription, and drug costs would be fully covered once a beneficiary spent $4,000.
Under the House Republican plan, beneficiaries would have to pay an estimated $33 monthly premium and would have to meet a $250 deductible. After the deductible, the government would pay 80 percent of a beneficiary's drug costs until they reached $1,000 and 50 percent of the next $1,000. From $2,000 to $3,700, the beneficiary would have to pay all drug costs, at which point the government would pick up the full tab.


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