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Prescription drug plan: Starting small is smart

June 25, 2002|by BOB MAGINNIS

Beware of politicians bearing "gifts" in an election year. Sometimes the "present" end up costing those who get them more than they can afford. That's why citizens need to carefully scrutinize prescription-drug plans advanced by two West Virginia politicians.

Both Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., back the idea of plugging a prescription drug benefit into the Medicare program, which now serves 39 million Americans. However, that's where the agreement ends.

Capito and the Republican-controlled House back a plan estimated to cost $350 billion over 10 years. Recipients would be charged $35 per month, with a $250 annual deductible. Medicare would then pay 80 percent of all prescription costs up to the first $1,000 and 50 percent of the next $1,000. Recipients would then be liable for all costs over that up to $3,800.

The Democratic proposal would cost patients $25 per month, with no deductible but a $10 copay for generics and $40 for branded drugs. There would be a $4,000 cap.

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Rockefeller concedes that at $500 billion over 10 years, the Democrats' plan would be more costly, but says the Republican proposal is only an "election-year ploy" that won't help seniors all that much.

Capito counters by saying that the GOP's plan to have private insurers negotiate with drug companies has been analyzed by the Congressional Budget Office, which predicts it will trim those costs by 15 percent or more. Rockefeller says West Virginia insurance companies don't want to participate in such plans, meaning those savings would be unavailable here.

The need to get this right the first time is crucial, because once this benefit is passed into law, removing it will be nearly impossible, given that anyone who tries will be painted as heartless. That's a good argument for starting with a smaller program that could be expanded later, if there's a need to do so and the nation has the revenue to make it happen.

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