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October 25, 1999: Working to MakePrescription Drugs Affordable

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"This debate over Medicare is more than about politics and budgets, it's about people. No senior should have to forgo or cut back on lifesaving medication because of the cost. We can afford to do something about it; we know what to do about it, and therefore, we have no excuse for inaction."

President Bill Clinton
Monday, October 25, 1999

Today, at the White House, President Clinton made a series of announcements on the need to strengthen and modernize Medicare The President criticized the multi-million dollar campaign backed by the pharmaceutical industry to kill a Medicare prescription drug benefit; directed the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to produce a study on drug costs and trends; and challenged Congress to pass his Social Security legislation, which will reserve one-third of the non-Social Security surplus for Medicare. Last Friday, Vice President Gore also expressed his concern about the inability of older and disabled Americans to access affordable prescription drugs.

Clearing Up the Myths in Advertising Campaign. President Clinton criticized the deceptive, multi-million dollar advertising campaign by the pharmaceutical industry against a Medicare prescription drug benefit. Citizens for Better Medicare, a group organized and primarily funded by the pharmaceutical industry, is sponsoring TV, radio and print ads that include several myths about the President's plan for a prescription drug benefit, including:

  • "Big government in my medicine cabinet." This is false. Under the President's proposal, all classes of drugs are covered, and any doctor can prescribe a drug that is medically necessary without constraints. No government restrictions or price controls would be imposed. In fact, the President's plan would actually increase, not decrease, choice of medicines, since it would give the tens of millions of Medicare beneficiaries with unreliable, expensive coverage – or no coverage at all – the option to buy basic coverage at an affordable price.

  • "All seniors will be forced into a government-run plan." Again, this is false. The President's drug benefit is purely optional; if beneficiaries want to keep their current coverage, they can. And the plan is not “government-run”, since beneficiaries choose coverage through either private managers or Medicare-managed care plans.

The President emphasized that America's elderly deserve more than deceptive scare tactics, and urged the drug industry to be more constructive as he works to forge a consensus on critical Medicare reform legislation.

Directing HHS to Produce its First Study on Prescription Drug Costs and Trends. The President directed HHS Secretary Donna Shalala to produce the first-ever HHS study of prescription drug costs and trends for Medicare beneficiaries. The study, which will be released within 90 days, will investigate:

  • price differences for the most commonly used drugs for people with and without coverage;
  • drug spending by people of various ages, as a percentage of income and of total health spending; and
  • trends in drug expenditures by people of different ages, as a percentage of income and of total health spending.

Urging Congress to Strengthen and Modernize Medicare. The President announced that he is sending legislation to Congress that will reserve one-third of the non-Social Security surplus for Medicare. This reserve can be used to extend Medicare's solvency and help fund a prescription drug benefit, although the precise allocation of these funds will be left open to provide flexibility in developing a Medicare reform proposal that can generate bipartisan support.

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