Three Democratic senators say they plan to improve a bipartisan Medicare prescription drug bill they call a "moving target."
The bill's architects, Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and ranking member Max Baucus (D-Mont.), have said Medicare beneficiaries would receive equal drug benefits under their proposal, whether enrolled in private health plans or traditional fee-for-service Medicare.
But Senate Minority Leader Thomas Daschle (D-S.D.) and Sens. Jay Rockefeller (D-W. V.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) argue that the compromise bill scheduled for mark-up by the Finance Committee tomorrow does not allow seniors to choose a Medicare drug benefit.
The senators made their remarks this morning at a press conference in Washington, D.C.
Daschle says Democrats plan to introduce amendments to the bill that would "ensure, regardless of whether you live in a rural or urban area, that you have the same access to these benefits."
He says the compromise bill does not guarantee equal benefits for seniors in rural communities, and he cites the lack of Medicare HMO access in those areas as a comparison for what drug coverage would look like under the current Finance Committee proposal. That proposal would create a Medicare PPO option, in addition to Medicare+Choice and traditional Medicare.
The bill lacks standards for how the drug benefit would be structured, Democrats say. They contend that insurance companies could determine various drug formularies and different levels of benefits and premiums, or pull out of communities altogether, causing seniors to have to switch plans and doctors.
The average $35 premium that has been reported to be in the bill has not been written down in the legislation to date, Stabenow says, and there is no set co-payment under the new prescription drug proposal. The Democrats promise to offer amendments that guarantee all beneficiaries access to fair premium and cost-sharing requirements.
Rockefeller says he is skeptical about private insurers offering prescription drug plans because many have not done so before. He also calls it "sad" that the proposed bill would not offer a comprehensive drug benefit until 2006.
Stabenow says the proposal does nothing to control the rising cost of prescription drugs.
"This is a plan that is very much geared toward what is best for insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies," Stabenow says.
When asked how medical liability reform might fit into a comprehensive Medicare package, Stabenow and Daschle say the bill should not be complicated with too many issues.
"Medical liability would be a sure fire way to derail what would be noticeable progress in the last few weeks," Daschle says.