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Urging Congress to Act Now on a Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit

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Thursday, May 25, 2000


"We have a full-time obligation to deal with the big opportunities and the big challenges of this country, and Congress should feel that obligation, even when they go into recess. There is no heavier evidence of that today than the need to provide voluntary, affordable prescription drug coverage."

President Bill Clinton
Thursday, May 25, 2000

Today, at the White House, President Clinton met with the Democratic leadership of the House and Senate to discuss passage of a Medicare prescription drug benefit, as well as other national priorities including a strong, enforceable Patients' Bill of Rights, common-sense gun safety legislation, and an increase in the minimum wage. The President emphasized that now is the time – while the nation is in the midst of unprecedented prosperity and the longest economic expansion in history – to strengthen and modernize Medicare with a prescription drug benefit that is voluntary, affordable, and available to all beneficiaries. He reiterated that the Democratic party is united in its strategy to provide this benefit, and outlined why the Republican plan falls short. The President urged Congress to act on this and other national priorities this year.

Addressing the Need for Prescription Drug Coverage. The following statistics support the urgent need for a Medicare prescription drug benefit:

  • Approximately 3 out of 5 Medicare beneficiaries lack decent, dependable prescription drug coverage. Millions of seniors and Americans with disabilities have no prescription drug coverage, and millions more are at risk of losing coverage or have inadequate, expensive coverage;
  • Current prescription drug coverage is unstable and declining – the proportion of firms offering such coverage has dropped 25% in the last 4 years;
  • Most older Americans without prescription drug coverage are middle-income.

Democrats are Unified on Benefit Plan. The Democratic Caucus is united in its support for a new prescription drug benefit that is:

  • Voluntary and accessible to all beneficiaries;
  • Designed to give beneficiaries meaningful protection;
  • Affordable to all beneficiaries and the program; and
  • Administered using private-sector entities and competitive purchasing techniques.

Republican Plan Falls Short of Their Stated Goals. Although the House Republican leadership recently recognized the need for an affordable, optional prescription drug benefit available to all Medicare beneficiaries, their current proposal does not achieve this goal because it:

  • Does not assure availability of prescription drug coverage. Because the Republican plan relies on private insurers to offer the benefit voluntarily, it cannot be guaranteed to be available to all seniors. In testimony before Congress, the insurance industry itself expressed skepticism about the effectiveness of the Republican approach.

  • Is not affordable for most seniors, even if it is available. Because it provides direct premium assistance only to beneficiaries with annual incomes under $12,600, the Republican benefit will almost certainly fail to be affordable even if it is available. If enacted, the Republican proposal would mark the first time in the program's history that Medicare would not provide universal premium assistance for benefits.

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