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More Medicare Drug Benefits Urged by Head of Aging Panel

August 07, 1987|From a Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The chairman of the Senate Aging Committee charged Thursday that "there are huge blank spots" in legislation designed to hold down health costs for the nation's 30 million Medicare beneficiaries and called for an extensive new prescription drug benefit.

Medicare should pay 80% of the cost of all drugs after the beneficiary has paid the first $200 in drug bills each year, Sen. John Melcher (D-Mont.) said. Drugs outside the hospital currently are not covered by Medicare, but the House has passed a bill providing for 80% payment for such drugs after the beneficiary pays the first $500. The Medicare bill before the Senate Finance Committee does not have a drug benefit.

Melcher told a news conference that his plan would help pay the drug bills of 13 million Medicare beneficiaries, compared to 6 million under the House legislation.

He will offer his package--which includes 180 days a year of government-paid care for patients restricted to their homes--in September, when the Senate considers final passage of Medicare legislation.

Both the House and Senate bills would cap the amount of out-of-pocket spending on hospital and doctor bills by Medicare beneficiaries. Unlimited free days of care would be available after a patient paid for the first day in the hospital, which now costs $520. Under current law, the patient pays for the first day, gets the next 59 days free and then pays $130 daily.

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