President Bush today signed a Medicare-reform legislation authorizing a prescription drug benefit for seniors and millions of dollars in payment assistance for providers, while Democrats continued their push for major alterations to the law. At a rally today attended by hundreds of seniors, Rep. Chet Edwards (D-Texas) and Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) said they are sponsoring bills that among other things would allow the federal government to negotiate with drugmakers for lower prices for Medicare, currently not allowed under the Medicare law, and would repeal a demonstration project in which Medicare would compete with private health plans in six metropolitan areas. Edwards' bill was introduced today. Kennedy said he will introduce his bill tomorrow.
In other Washington news, HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson reportedly reiterated statements that he would not return to his post after the 2004 presidential election. Thompson, who hinted at his decision in spring, spoke to reporters while on a trip in Africa. He also said it was unlikely he would run for public office again. Also, Bush signed a new law giving Congress 60 days to review proposed closures of Veterans Affairs hospitals and authorizing construction of new VA facilities. The agency in August proposed closing seven facilities and shifting services to other areas. A 15-member panel is expected to make its recommendation on the proposal later this month. -- by Tony Fong