A bipartisan Medicare reform proposal outlined Thursday by the Senate Finance Committee would establish a voluntary prescription drug benefit providing equal coverage to all Medicare beneficiaries, whether enrolled in a private plan or traditional fee-for-service Medicare.
But already it faces opposition among the Democratic leadership in the Senate and the House.
Under the tentative agreement, engineered by committee chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and ranking minority member Max Baucus (D-Mont.), Medicare enrollees would pay a $275 deductible and a $35 monthly premium for the benefit. Until full coverage begins in 2006, beneficiaries would pay a one-time fee to use a drug discount card that would provide a $600 annual federal subsidy and allow them to save 10% to 25% on prescriptions.
Beneficiaries would be responsible annually for half of drug costs up to $3,450, all costs between $3,451 and $5,300, and 10% of costs over $5,300. For low-income seniors, beginning in 2006, Medicare would provide drug cost assistance on a sliding scale relative to their income.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) says in a statement that the Grassley-Baucus agreement "falls short" of Democratic objectives.
"We have strongly opposed plans that would privatize Medicare; that would include large gaps in coverage that require seniors to pay premiums when they don't receive benefits; that allow insurance companies rather than Medicare to set premiums and determine coverage; or that penalize seniors who live in rural areas by failing to guarantee them access to the same coverage provided elsewhere in the nation," Daschle says.
Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) says, "If this bill becomes law, Medicare will be on the road to ruin."
A statement released Thursday by the White House says President Bush is encouraged by the agreement.
"We have a real opportunity to get something done this year," the statement says.
Baucus says the bill might look different had he created it himself, but "that's not what Congress is about."
"The bill we'll pass is a product of many different opinions and many different points of view. Too often lately, it feels like people don't even want to try to work together in a bipartisan manner," Baucus says. "We have $400 billion sitting on the table in front of us. We can't squander this opportunity."
The full Finance Committee convened another hearing on Medicare reform this morning and is scheduled to mark up the measure next Tuesday.