March 04,2003

Baucus Critical of Bush Rx Drug Plan

Senator Says White House Plan Wouldn't Help Rural Seniors

(Washington, D.C.) - Stating that Montana seniors deserve the same treatment asseniors in urban areas, today Montana Senator Max Baucus sharply criticized PresidentBush's plan to force seniors into private healthcare plans, in order to receive prescriptiondrug coverage.

Baucus, top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, spoke to the AmericanMedical Association convention in Washington, where the president earlier in the dayoutlined his Medicare proposal tha t would prod seniors into an HMO in order to receiveprescription drug coverage.

Baucus said the president's drug plan won't work in rural states like Montana,where Medicare managed care failed several years ago, and would force seniors tochoose between "the family doctor they know and trust and the prescription drugs theyneed."

"Does it make sense that a senior in California who joins an HMO gets coveragefor drugs to lower her cholesterol and treat her glaucoma, while her sister - who lives inMontana and stays in the traditional Medicare program - cannot," Baucus asked thenation's top health care providers. "I don't believe so. Medicare has never beforediscriminated against beneficiaries based on their choice of health plans. We can't startnow."

Baucus supports a plan under Medicare that would allow all seniors to getprescription drug coverage while continuing in the traditional fee- for-service Medicareprogram.

"Private plans have not fared well in Medicare up to now," Baucus said. "In short,I cannot support any proposal that would use carrots or sticks to encourage seniors toenroll in private plans. The traditional Medicare fee-for-service program must remain aviable option for all Medicare beneficiaries."

Rural and sparsely populated states like Montana have fewer – if any -- privateand Medicare managed care plans than urban states. Montana's only Medicare managedcare plan, based in Billings, failed several years ago.

As top Democrat on the Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction overMedicare, Baucus will play a key role in passing a new Medicare drug benefit. And asCongress begins to debate reforming Medicare, Baucus said he will work together withthe White House and both parties in Congress to provide all seniors with a prescriptiondrug benefit and make sure they can use their family doctor.

Saying he is open to exploring ways to provide that drug benefit through a private,insurance-based plan, Baucus said seniors in private plans must be protected by agovernment back-up system that would provide them with standard prescription drugbenefits if a private plan fails.