Prescription drug issue before Senate
The high cost of prescription drugs has proved to be a potent political issue -- particularly among elderly voters.
With that in mind, Democrats and Republicans both say they want to help rein in costs and prevent some seniors from having to choose between their medicine and food. But the parties disagree on how best to achieve that goal.
In general, Republicans favor an approach that would cost the government less and rely mainly on private insurers to administer a drug benefit plan.
Most Democrats want a government-administered program -- one, they say, that would provide seniors with greater coverage and fewer out-of-pocket expenses.
In June, the GOP-controlled House passed a White House-backed bill that would spend about $320 billion over 10 years to offer seniors a prescription drug benefit.
The debate stalled in the Senate Tuesday when Republicans blocked Democrat efforts to bring up a generic drug bill -- which Democrats want to build on with a Medicare prescription drug benefit.
The main vehicle for debate and amendments will be a bill offered by three Democrats -- Sens. Bob Graham of Florida, Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts and Zell Miller of Georgia.
The bill would cost an estimated $425 to $450 billion through 2010. There would be a monthly premium of $25 and no annual deductible. The plan also calls for a $10 co-payment for generic drugs and a $40 co-payment for brand-name drugs.
The neediest seniors would get a free ride if their income level is below $11,000. Once seniors pay $4,000 in out-of-pocket expenses, Medicare would kick in and pay 100 percent of drug costs.
Most Republicans are rallying around another measure.
Dubbed the "tripartisan" bill, the legislation is authored by Sens. James Jeffords, I-Vermont; Charles Grassley, R-Iowa; and John Breaux, D-Louisiana and others.
It calls for a monthly premium of less than $35 and an annual deductible of $250.
Seniors would pay up to half of prescription drugs costs up to $2,000 - $2,500.
Once out-of-pocket expenses reached $3,700 for a senior, the plan would pay 90 percent of additional prescription costs.
How will the debate involving a key voting bloc -- senior citizens -- play out in an election year?
Whose philosophy will prevail: the Republican approach that relies more on private insurers to administer a drug prescription plan or the Democrats' support for expanded government programs, primarily Medicare?
Sens. Bob Graham, Edward Kennedy and Zell Miller: Primary authors of prescription drug plan favored by Democrats
Sens. James Jeffords, Charles Grassley and John Breaux: Chief sponsors of 'tripartisan' legislation supported by many Republicans
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