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Bush Wants $190 Billion More for Medicare

Monday, 28 January 2002 12:00 AM

"We want Medicare to be modernized. We want it to be a system that is relevant for, for seniors today and for tomorrow,” Bush said in a meeting with congressional members. "And it's not. It's a system - it's old, and it's tired, and it needs to be, it needs to be looked at in a way that recognizes we've made a commitment to our country's seniors. But we want the commitment to work."

Bush was set to deliver his second State of the Union Address before a joint session of Congress tonight. There he was expected to detail his $2 trillion federal budget proposal and his intent to spend even more on Medicare. Meeting with lawmakers in the West Wing, Bush said it was "not an issue for the faint-hearted" but "the right thing to do."

The Bush administration estimated 77 million Americans would be in Medicare by 2030. It estimates the fund for hospital insurance, the Part A Trust Fund, will face cash-flow deficits beginning in 2016, and Medicare's fund for its other benefits under Part B, which includes doctor visits and other non-hospital health costs, likely would require a doubling of its premiums to remain solvent over the next 10 years.

The president's framework for strengthening Medicare calls for all seniors to have the option of a subsidized prescription drug benefit, better coverage for preventative care and serious illness, better health insurance options and high-quality health care.

Under Bush's proposal, he intends to implement the Medicare Rx Drug Card Program that would provide pharmacy discounts to elders. The initiative would secure manufacturer rebates and pass them on to pharmacies and beneficiaries, resulting in lower prices. A second initiative, the Pharmacy Plus Program, would allow states to use their Medicaid programs, which serve the indigent, to provide drug-only coverage for low-income elders.

The Medicare Low-Income Drug Assistance proposal would make it possible to phase in comprehensive drug coverage for beneficiaries with income up to 150 percent of the federal poverty level, or $17,000 for a family of two. Federal taxes would pay 90 percent of the costs of the plan, and state taxpayers would be responsible for the remaining 10 percent.

Bush's proposal would seek additional funding to help retirees sustain private health insurance plans. It would also seek additional options for Medigap coverage, the supplemental health plan that pays what Medicare does not cover. Though private health plans offer Medigap, the government sets the coverage requirements each plan must offer.

Some Democrats have wondered how the Bush White House plans to pay for an ambitious domestic agenda amid an economic recession with a costly war. They question the looming budget deficits projected by the Congressional Budget Office. CBO reported a predicted $1.6 trillion drop in the federal revenue "surplus" between 2002 and 2011. It blames 60 percent of the decline from Bush's 10-year, $1.35 trillion tax cut enacted last year and additional nonessential spending. The White House estimates a $106 billion deficit this year.

Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said it could be months before Medicare could include a prescription drug plan. He said it was important that Congress approve the legislation to make it happen.

"We have to act. As the United States Congress, we have to act under the leadership that the president displays in terms of Medicare reform and in terms of modernization and in terms of prescription drugs," said Frist, a member of the Health, Education Labor and Pensions Committee.

GOP members said they were pleased the issue was finally drawing attention and stressed the importance of overcoming partisan politics to pass good policy.

Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, said she was pleased Bush would be addressing Medicare during his State of the Union address.

"I think, obviously, this being an election year, we have to do everything that we can individually and collectively to avoid the partisanship that inevitably bogs down many of the key issues facing this country. And we hope to avoid that. The president hopes to avoid that," Snowe said.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, agreed.

"I'm very thankful that we're going to be able to move forward now on this policy because for a long period of time before last year there were bills introduced, but they could never move forward because money wasn't available," Grassley said.

"Then last year, when we set aside $300 billion for it and the money was available, we argued for a whole year over policy. So we'll be able to move ahead now on policy and work it in, at least to the extent that the president wants to, and hopefully to a greater extent, to get a very good program for seniors for prescription drugs."

Copyright 2002 by United Press International.

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We want Medicare to be modernized. We want it to be a system that is relevant for, for seniors today and for tomorrow," Bush said in a meeting with congressional members. And it's not. It's a system - it's old, and it's tired, and it needs to be, it needs to be looked at...
Monday, 28 January 2002 12:00 AM
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