June 05,2003

Baucus Speaks on Bipartisan Medicare Framework

I'd like to thank Chairman Grassley for his hard work and dedication that has helped us get towhere we are today. Considering that just about two weeks ago we were focused on a tax cut, it'squite an accomplishment to be laying out a Medicare reform and prescription drug proposaltoday.

We're at an important point. We ha ve $400 Billion laying on the table, specifically earmarkedfor Medicare reform and a prescription drug benefit. We've been at this point before and itpassed us by.

This time will be different. The stars are in alignment this year. Chairman Grassley and I haveput together a good preliminary package that will help seniors across the country. It's not aperfect package. Sure, there are provisions I would have liked to see in the bill. And others Imight not have included if I wrote the bill by myself.

But that's not what Congress is about -- none of us can pass a bill by ourselves. The bill we'llpass is a product of many different opinions and many different points of view. Too often lately,it feels like people don't even want to try to work together in a bipartisan manner.

But by not working together, the only people we're hurting are the ones we were elected to serve.Our seniors need a drug benefit included in Medicare. They need a strengthened Medicareprogram that will remain viable for decades to come.

We have $400 Billion sitting on the table in front of us. We can't squander this opportunity.Over 40 Million Americans depend on Medicare for their health care needs. And this numberwill grow by leaps and bounds as baby boomers retire. Today, we're talking about ideas thatwould modernize the Medicare program.

Chairman Grassley talked about the main outline. Now, I'd like to focus on how we're workingto make sure rural and low income seniors are taken care of in any final bill we pass.

One of the reasons that Chairman Grassley and I were able to agree on a framework is because ofour shared dedication to providing for our rural seniors. Iowa seniors, Montana seniors, andseniors throughout rural America will all see benefits from our prescription drug proposal.

We would establish a voluntary drug benefit under a new Part D of Medicare. If a senior decidesto join a private managed care or preferred provider plan, then the prescription drug benefitwould be rolled into that plan.

If a senior decides to stay in traditional fee- for-service Medicare then they would receive theirdrug benefit through a stand alone plan.

Here's the important point: The value of, or subsidy toward, the prescription drug benefit wouldbe equal for seniors who move into private plans or who stay in fee-for-service.

Unlike the President's proposal, we're not using carrots to entice or coerce seniors into plans thatmight not work for them. This is especially important to rural states like Montana where manyseniors don't have the option of moving into a private plan because those plans don't exist.

That leads me to my next point. Chairman Grassley and I have included a strong governmentfallback. Seniors must have access to at least TWO private plans for a prescription drug benefit,or the government will provide a fall back plan.

That means that whether a senior lives in Los Angeles, California or Wolf Point, Montana,they'll have guaranteed access to a prescription drug program. And it will be a program with anational premium and standard benefit.We've also focused on making sure the prescription drug program provides for our low incomeseniors.

Beginning in 2006, the Medicare program would provide drug cost assistance to low- incomeseniors on a sliding scale relative to their income.And for seniors who are eligible for both Medicare AND Medicaid, we'd make sure theMedicaid benefit is comparable to the Medicare benefit. The federal government would providestates with assis tance to make sure that happens.

Between the time the bill passes and 2006, we'd provide low income seniors with a drug discountcard. The exact benefits of the card are still being determined, but it's important that we providelow income seniors with prescription drug assistance as soon as possible.

I have a good feeling about the progress we've made. We're on the right track. The proposalChairman Grassley and I are working on is still very much dependant on the CBO score, whichwe expect to receive in the next few days. I anticipate that changes will have to be made, butwe're in a good position.

I'd like to thank Chairman Grassley for seizing this opportunity with me. How often do we havea situation where money has been set aside for a program? $400 Billion is a significant level offunding. We can do a lot of good with that money and help seniors all over the country.

I'd like to extend an invitation today to all of my Finance Committee colleagues and Senatecolleagues. I ask them to join me in developing a final Medicare and prescription drug bill thatwe can pass in the coming weeks.

I'd ask each of us to be open to compromise and new ideas. We need to remember who we'redoing this for and that's our seniors. It’s time to take advantage of the $400 Billion and pass agood bill.

Thank you.