June 06,2003

Baucus Statement on Strengthening and Improving the Medicare Program

Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. As always, I appreciate your leadership of thisCommittee, and your willingness to work with me. I would also like to thank others on theCommittee for their longstanding work on Medicare. In particular, I want to thank SenatorsBreaux, Snowe, Hatch, and Jeffords for their work over the years.

Some may take issue with the speed of our deliberations. While I do not agree with them inall respects, I will say this: I firmly believe that we should not proceed until we have a cost estimateof the plan from the Congressional Budget Office. And if we do not have those numbers, I willurge the Chairman not to proceed.

But we are at an important point. Sometimes, there comes a time when you have to fish orcut bait. We have $400 billion on the table, specifically earmarked for Medicare reform and aprescription drug benefit. We have been at this point before and let it pass us by.

Yes, it would be nice to have more funds available for this policy. And yes, a richer benefitwould be more desirable. But the question is: Will we let the opportunity to use these funds pass usby again? I don’t think so. This time, it’s going to be different. This year, I believe the stars arealigned. Chairman Grassley and I have put together a solid framework that I believe will helpseniors across the country.

It's not a perfect package. Nothing ever is. Sure, there are provisions that I would haveliked to see in the bill. And others I might not have included. But I think it’s a good bill. A goodstart toward helping seniors get the prescription drug coverage they need. And getting everythingyou want is not what Congress is about. None of us can pass a bill by ourselves. The bill we willpass will be a product of many different opinions and many different points of view. Too oftenlately, it feels as though people don't even want to try to work together.

But by not working together, the only people we'd be hurting would be the ones we were elected toserve.

The framework that Senator Grassely and I outlined publicly yesterday would establish avoluntary drug benefit under a new Part D of Medicare. If a senior decides to join a privatemanaged care or preferred provider plan, then the prescription drug benefit would be rolled into thatplan. If a senior decides to stay in traditional fee- for-service Medicare then the senior wouldreceive drug benefits through a stand-alone plan. But the value of, and subsidy toward, theprescription drug benefit would be equal for seniors who move into private plans or who stay in feefor-service.

Unlike the President's plan, this proposal does not force seniors -- 90 percent of whom are intraditional Medicare -- into a private plan that they neither want or need. This is especiallyimportant to rural states like Montana, where most senio rs don't have the option of moving into aprivate plan, because those plans don't exist.

That leads me to my next point. Under our proposal, Chairman Grassley and I haveincluded a strong government fallback. Seniors must have access to at least TWO private plans fora prescription drug benefit, or the government will provide a fallback plan. If there is not truecompetition, then traditional Medicare would provide a fallback.

We've also focused on making sure the drug program is accessible and affordable for ourlow-income seniors. Low- income seniors would pay no more than minimal cost sharing at alllevels of spending. We have done much to eliminate what people call the “donut” of high copaymentsfor low- income seniors.

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, which weexpect to receive Sunday. I anticipate that changes may need to be made, but we're in a goodposition.

I'd like to thank Chairman Grassley for seizing this opportunity to work together. And I'dlike to extend an invitation to all of my Finance Committee colleagues. I ask them to join us andwork together to develop this Medicare prescription drug bill.

I believe that it’s time to take advantage of the opportunity that’s available to us and pass agood bill. It’s time to help our seniors.