September 18,2000

Roth Calls on Clinton, Gore to Work Across Party Lines on Immediate Rx Coverage for Neediest Seniors

WASHINGTON -- The following is the statement of Senate Finance Committee Chairman William V. Roth, Jr. (R-DE) in response to another White House press briefing held today on Roth's prescription drug plan:

"I am profoundly frustrated by the partisanship that has been shown on prescription drug coverage by the staff of this Administration. I have put forward a temporary solution that could, upon enactment, take care of the prescription drug needs of our nation's neediest seniors. This legislation would cover those seniors until Congress and the White House reach agreement on a more comprehensive Medicare prescription drug plan -- which, judging from the tone coming out of the White House staff, isn't going to be this year.

"My legislation does not cover every senior -- but it gives immediate coverage to millions more than have coverage today. Under every other plan, including the Gore plan, they would have to wait as long as 8 years for coverage.

"I am disappointed that the White House staff has let politics get in the way of immediate relief for our nation's neediest seniors. I hope that this partisanship does not extend to the President and Vice President.

"I call on both President Clinton and Vice President Gore to repudiate their staff's petty politics and help me extend immediate prescription drug coverage to America's neediest seniors."

The following is a point by point rebuttal to the White House criticism of Roth's drug plan:

OMB point #1: The Roth plan would exclude from eligibility for drug coverage nearly two-thirds (25 million) of all Medicare beneficiaries -- most of whom lack an affordable prescription drug option today.

Rebuttal: First, two-thirds of Medicare beneficiaries have prescription drug coverage under the current system. The Roth plan would extend coverage to more than half of the remaining third, ensuring that more than 80% of Medicare beneficiaries have prescription drug coverage through this new program or through existing coverage.

The Roth drug plan is not meant to be a comprehensive solution to the challenges facing Medicare. It is simply a temporary solution that could immediately take care of lower income seniors until Congress and the President can reach an agreement on a comprehensive solution.

OMB point #2: The Roth drug proposal would fail to reach many of the low income

seniors and people with disabilities that it purports to help. This is largely because (a) state based programs for Medicare beneficiaries have historically had low participation rates; (b) enrollment of eligible seniors would inevitably be capped since a significant proportion of Federal funding would diplace existing state spending.

Rebuttal: The Roth plan would reach low income beneficiaries with incomes of up to 175% of poverty. a) Both bills are designed to provide states with immediate assistance in conducting outreach and enrollment initiatives to help eligible beneficiaries participate in the new program. Because prescription drug coverage is so much in demand by beneficiaries, we would expect high levels of participation unless the Administration persists in trying to attach a welfare stigma to prescription drug assistance. Drug coverage is not welfare - it is common sense. Republicans have worked with the White House and the states to destigmatize Medicaid and SCHIP - the Administration cannot have it both ways. b) The bill is fully funded to meet CBO's projections on cost. States will receive financial assistance to expand and build upon their existing state drug assistance programs. There is no maintenance of effort requirement on these programs, because the bill acknowledges that the federal government, rather than the states, should be primarily responsible for providing prescription drug coverage to Medicare beneficiaries. Over the full life of the program, new federal spending dramatically exceeds current state spending on existing programs, ensuring that overall capacity will be greatly enhanced.

OMB point #3: It would likely take longer to implement 50 different state prescription drug programs than it would to set up a Medicare optional drug benefit.

Rebuttal: The comprehensive reform proposal supported by the Administration would not implement a drug benefit until 2002 or 2003 and then would phase it in over several years. In contrast, this proposal would make funding available beginning October 1, 2000. All 50 states are actively administering drug benefits today through a variety of programs such as S-CHIP, Medicaid and state - specific pharmacy assistance programs. Building on existing state drug assistance programs will allow new funds to be quickly utilized to make benefits available to those who need them the most. These provide the infrastructure needed to move rapidly and which does not exist today in the Medicare program. It is hoped that the Health Care Financing Administration will work cooperatively with the states in an effort to get assistance to those who need it most - those on fixed incomes who are forced to choose between food and medicine.