Congress deliberates Medicare prescription coverage

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(Host) Senator James Jeffords says he’s confident that Congress will enact a meaningful Medicare plan that will introduce prescription drug coverage.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) Because there are major differences between the House and Senate versions of this legislation, a conference committee will be meeting to work out a compromise. Jeffords says he’s sure that the final proposal will be patterned after the measure adopted in the Senate last week.

While both the House and Senate plans call for seniors to pay monthly premiums of $35 and include a roughly $250 deductible, the House proposal requires individuals with annual drug costs of more than $2,000 to have greater out of pocket expenses.

In addition, the House plan makes the prescription drug coverage available through private insurance companies; the Senate proposal requires the federal government to offer the coverage if a region doesn’t have at least two private companies bidding for these policies.

Jeffords is convinced that the final compromise will resemble the Senate approach because of the active participation of President Bush on this issue:

(Jeffords) “When we came in to meet with the president, the president rushed through the others and ran up and shook my hand. That had never happened before, it may never occur again. But it was an indication to me that he was certainly receptive to the product that we had produced working together.”

(Kinzel) But Jeffords says he won’t hesitate to vote against the conference committee plan if the proposal includes too many of the provisions of the House bill:

(Jeffords) “If it’s not substantially similar to the Senate version and is working towards doing away with federal involvement and privatization of the system, I think that would be a bad step backwards, and that it would be one that should be aimed towards helping those that are wealthy versus those who are lacking funds.”

(Kinzel) Jeffords says he’s also optimistic that the final compromise plan will include a provision that will allow pharmacies and individuals to purchase their drugs from Canada, where prices are often substantially lower than those in the United States.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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