Sanders says prescription bill is corporate welfare

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(Host) Congressman Bernie Sanders says a Medicare prescription drug bill that passed the House recently is little more than a cynical effort by political leaders to fool the public and reward the country’s largest drug companies. Sanders is hopeful that the proposal can be significantly improved in the coming weeks.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Congressman Bernie Sanders told reporters at a Statehouse news conference that he’s delighted that House and Senate negotiators have been unable to reach a compromise on a $400 billion plan to provide prescription drug coverage to the Medicare program. Congress isn’t expected now to consider a final compromise until at least September and Sanders says the delay will give opponents of the bill an opportunity to rally support for a much stronger plan.

Sanders says the current legislation will offer few benefits to senior citizens because the voluntary program will include monthly premiums, deductibles and co payments. Sanders say the Senate bill, which is the more generous of the two, will pay about one-third of the cost of a person spending $5,000 a year on drugs. Sanders says because the bill doesn’t contain any cost control provisions, it should be viewed as a bail out program for the nation’s largest drug companies:

(Sanders) “Now I should tell you that the industry right now has a big smile on its face. They’re feeling great – they see this not as a prescription drug program for seniors, but as a real welfare program for the pharmaceutical industry. So they’re delighted to be able to sell their products to tens of millions of more seniors at the going prices of today. It’s a very good deal for the industry.”

(Kinzel) Sanders wants to add a provision to the bill that would allow individuals and pharmacies to get their drugs from Canada where the prices are often 40% lower than in this country:

(Sanders) “If there is strong re-importation from Canada, which would lower prices by 50%, this bill would become irrelevant. Because nobody would voluntarily go into that bill because prices would be lower. You’d get a better deal going to your local drug store. That’s why the Republicans are going to fight it so hard. But I have to tell you, we are working with some serious Republicans who, from their point of view, also don’t like this and are willing to support re-importation.”

(Kinzel) Sanders says he expects a vote on the re-importation plan in the U.S. House in the next few weeks. If this proposal passes the House, Sanders says it will completely change the debate in Congress over the prescription drug issue.

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

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