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New Study Heats Up Debate Over Prescription Drug Costs, Medicare Benefits

Aired April 26, 2000 - 2:17 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: The nation is overdosing on high drug costs. That's the conclusion of a new private study on prescription drug prices. President Clinton today used the study to argue for a Medicare drug benefit.

For the specifics of what Mr. Clinton has in mind and the political dynamics of this debate, here's CNN medical correspondent Eileen O'Connor.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen, the president of the United States.

EILEEN O'CONNOR, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Clinton is pushing Congress to pass a prescription drug benefit under Medicare, pointing to a report by Families USA showing the price of prescription drugs is rising on average at twice the rate of inflation.

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Seniors living on fixed incomes simply can't cope with these kinds of price increases forever. That's why we should take action to help them, and do it now.

O'CONNOR: Citing one commonly prescribed antacid drug, the report showed a widow living on 150 percent of poverty, or a little over $12,000 a year, would have to pay 11 percent of her budget, or one out of every $9 to fill her prescription.

The report's authors are backing a White House plan to offer a universal prescription drug benefit to all seniors as part of Medicare, saying the Republican-backed plan doesn't reach enough senior who need help.

RON POLLACK, FAMILIES USA: I think the issue comes down to who should get this protection. Should it just be a tiny portion of the senior population or should it essentially be all seniors?

O'CONNOR: The bipartisan proposal favored by Republicans would offer relief for seniors at or below 133 percent of poverty and would offer all seniors a prescription drug benefit by allowing them to choose among subsidized managed-care options that would offer such a plan, saying that is the only affordable way to offer a prescription drug benefit under a Medicare system that is already in financial trouble. The pharmaceutical industry agrees.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The key there is to provide choices and not to have them straight-jacketed into a single, one-size-fits-all government program.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O'CONNOR: The industry also calls this study overall a flawed report and says that it only looks at retail prices and not the prices that many seniors actually pay for their drugs, which is usually under some discounted plan.

Now, in addition, the Republicans and the Democrats do agree on one thing, and that is that seniors do need some kind of prescription drug benefit under Medicare in order to be able to pay for the drugs that they need. More seniors are taking more drugs.

Eileen O'Connor -- I'm Eileen O'Connor, reporting live from Washington.

ALLEN: Thanks, Eileen.

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