March 22,2000

Roth Statement at First Prescription Drug Hearing

WASHINGTON -- The Senate Finance Committee met today to hear testimony at the first of two hearings to consider the inclusion of a prescription drug benefit in the Medicare program. Senate Finance Committee Chairman William V. Roth, Jr. (R-DE) today delivered the following opening statement:

"Today we will begin to take testimony on a major Medicare modernization issue, which is how best to address the issue of Medicare payment for outpatient prescription drugs. First, it is important to note that Medicare currently pays for medically necessary prescription drugs provided to inpatients of hospitals or skilled nursing facilities, and in certain other specified circumstances. At present, Medicare is spending over $3 billion annually for this coverage.

"Before we begin, I would like to share certain goals related to today's topic of Medicare outpatient prescription drug coverage. I think it is important that we work together in a bipartisan fashion to address the following considerations.

"First, it is important in a reformed Medicare program to offer substantial protection from financial liabilities associated with high prescription drug spending.

"Second, we need to take into account the reasonably widespread drug coverage among the current Medicare population and try to minimize displacement of existing privately-offered coverage. Many seniors have coverage they are satisfied with and we should take care not to disrupt those plans.

"Finally, I consider it very important that these changes occur in the context of broader program reforms, elements of which are included in many of the plans before us this session.

"I'd like to conclude with a word about these hearings. Today, we are scheduled to hear expert testimony on the extent of drug coverage among the Medicare population, and key factors to consider in drug benefit design and administration. That will be followed by industry and consumer perspectives. Next week, on March 29, we plan to take testimony from a panel of our Colleagues, and the Administration. These are joined by the common thread of having authored Medicare reform or drug coverage plans that have been in the public arena for consideration for several months. We will then conclude with expert testimony drawn from States and the private sector on lessons in designing and administering a major drug benefit."