Abercrombie backs Dems health plan alternative

Hawaii Rep. Neil Abercrombie announced today that he will be cosponsoring Democratic legislation to add a prescription drug element to the existing Medicare system, saying it will lower drug costs and maintain the freedom of choice seniors need. The Medicare Rx Benefit and Discount Act is being put forward as a direct response to President Bush’s proposals for Medicare reform, which would involve new private-style health-care options.

Bush outlined his vision for health care today at an American Medical Association conference in Washington. He also called once again for limits on malpractice lawsuits — opposed by Democrats but backed by doctors.

Democrats say the Bush plan — which is not tied to any specific legislation, and was instead offered as a general map for Republican lawmakers — will force seniors to drop out of traditional fee-for-service Medicare and join HMO’s or other private health plans in order to receive a prescription drug benefit. In addition, critics say, many seniors would lose the ability to choose their own doctors.

“Any plan that forces seniors to abandon their family doctors to get the drug benefit they deserve is the wrong plan for seniors,” Abercrombie said.

The Democratic plan, aimed to take effect in 2005, is basically a repeat of legislation offered up last summer. It would add prescription drug coverage under Medicare through a voluntary $25 monthly premium, a $100 deductible, 20 percent co-insurance, and a $2,000 annual cap on prescription drug costs.

The bill will give a prescription drug discount to Medicare beneficiaries by requiring the Secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate discounted drug prices for them.

“I’ve heard too many seniors tell me that they have to skimp on food so they can buy prescription drugs,” said Abercrombie. “There’s something wrong about that. No one, least of all our kupuna, should have to choose between putting food on the table or buying medicine prescribed by their doctor.”

Bush framed the debate as one between a government-run program versus private “innovation. But Democratic leaders said the President is merely reviving his efforts to ultimately dismantle and privatize Medicare.

Said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi: “President Bush may have revised the packaging, but the details are the same: You can choose your own doctor or you can get help with the routine costs of medication, but you can’t have both.

“Our plan maintains the choices that matter most to the elderly and the disabled — which doctor to go to and what pharmacy to use,” she added.

According to a CNN report, The Democratic plan would cost an estimated $700-$900 billion, more than the $400 billion Bush has promised for a Medicare overhaul.

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