Health & Medical Political

Drug Bill Benefits Termed ‘Very Poor’

Another look at the new drug benefit program for Medicare

Two federal plans being weighed would raise costs for many on Medicare, a report by activists says.

The ens of thousands of Medicare beneficiaries in Iowa would pay more than they do now for their prescription drugs under proposals approved in the House and Senate, according to a report issued Monday by liberal-leaning activist groups.

The Iowa Citizen Action Network and the Iowa State Council of Senior Citizens said in the report that an analysis by a national affiliate shows that “very poor” benefits are provided under both prescription drug bills. The bills are being considered in a House-Senate conference committee.

The groups recommended that tax cuts be rolled back to provide more money for a prescription drug benefit, now set to cost $400 billion over 10 years under budget agreements.

Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa is the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and the author of the Senate version of the legislation. Both bills would extend new prescription drug benefits to seniors through private health insurance plans overseen by the government, and they would dole out billions in new money for rural doctors and hospitals.

An analysis by Richard Kirsch of the USAction Education Fund contends that 161,964 Iowa seniors and people with disabilities would pay more for their prescription drugs under the Senate bill. That is because of the monthly premiums, deductibles, and co-payments that are required.

Those who would pay more generally have less than $1,100 a year in prescription drug bills.

Under the House version, said Kirsch, 134,970 seniors – those with less than $800 a year in bills – would pay more than they do now for drugs.

The report also estimated that 38,914 seniors in Iowa would lose their current employer-sponsored prescription drug coverage under the Senate bill, based on estimates by the Congressional Budget Office. The estimate under the House bill was 33,656.

Grassley aides noted 76 senators, including all but 11 Democrats, voted with Grassley for the Senate version of the bill. “The legislation offers Iowans a valuable insurance benefit they don’t have right now,” said Jill Kozeny, communications director for Grassley.

She also said that the Employers Coalition on Medicare, a private group made up of businesses, said the bill would slow the loss of employer-sponsored benefit programs because of the subsidies it would offer.

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