President Bush proposes a 'helping hand'

April 1, 2001

Pharmaceutical Representative

President Bush has sent his temporary prescription drug proposal for low-income families - called "An Immediate Helping Hand" - to Congress. The plan would provide block grants to states to cover drug costs for seniors 65 and older who have incomes of up to $11,600, and up to half the drug costs of seniors with incomes of up to $15,000. The plan would also cover drug costs for any Medicare patient, regardless of income, if his or her yearly drug costs exceed $6,000.

President Bush has sent his temporary prescription drug proposal for low-income families - called "An Immediate Helping Hand" 1- to Congress. The plan would provide block grants to states to cover drug costs for seniors 65 and older who have incomes of up to $11,600, and up to half the drug costs of seniors with incomes of up to $15,000. The plan would also cover drug costs for any Medicare patient, regardless of income, if his or her yearly drug costs exceed $6,000.

"The president has kept his commitment to seniors by proposing an initiative to help our nation's elderly to get affordable, voluntary and accessible [prescription drug coverage]," said Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI). "There are thirty-eight million Medicare beneficiaries, many of which face prohibitively high drug costs," said Camp. "It's important that our seniors don't have to choose between buying food and purchasing their prescription drugs."

The plan has received lukewarm reviews from healthcare industry associations. "The president's proposal is laudable," said Carl B. Feldbaum, president of the Biotechnology Industry Organization, "and addresses two principles BIO has advocated since the beginning of the debate over increasing Medicare beneficiaries' access to prescription drugs: Make sure low-income seniors have access to medicines, and provide all seniors with catastrophic coverage so they get the medicines they need when their drug costs are the highest.

"Another key BIO principle, however, is the critical need for comprehensive Medicare reform," he continued. "While it is clearly not President Bush's intention to stop with the Helping Hand state-based program, BIO has concerns that this initial proposal may impede comprehensive Medicare reform and create an inconsistent patchwork of drug coverage initiatives that vary from state to state."

Not enough coverage

Congressional Democrats criticized the Bush plan as not going far enough. "President Bush's disappointing proposal to provide funds to states for assistance to low-income seniors to purchase prescription drugs leaves millions behind, and is not the Medicare prescription drug benefit America's seniors need," said Rep. Tom Allen (D-ME). "The Bush plan's failure to provide a comprehensive solution to the problems of rising prescription drug costs and dwindling availability of private insurance options has drawn sharp criticism from both Republicans and Democrats. One recent study estimates that President Bush's proposal would eventually help fewer than one in 20 of the 37% of all seniors who currently lack prescription drug insurance coverage."

The Progressive Caucus, chaired by Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), has even released its own counter-legislation, which would cover 80% of drug costs for all Medicare beneficiaries. "It is time to make prescription drugs affordable for America's senior citizens, millions of whom live on fixed incomes while the cost of often life-saving drugs skyrockets year after year," said Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-MN). "President Bush's proposal fails to get us there. Our proposal will cover all seniors on Medicare, is affordable and safe, and has good cost containment measures. This is a real prescription drug benefit, and a big improvement over the White House plan." PR

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