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Medicare Bill That's More Costly for Seniors Is Killed

July 25, 2002|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Senators on Wednesday rejected a Republican-backed Medicare bill that would require elderly patients to pay substantial prescription drug costs before government help kicked in.

The 51-48 vote on a $160-billion measure came as lawmakers continued to work on a compromise Medicare proposal after rejecting two plans Tuesday: one for $594 billion offered by Democrats and the other for $370 billion proposed by a group of Republicans, a Democrat and the Senate's lone independent. The bills needed 60 votes to pass.

A group of Republican and Democratic senators met Wednesday evening to discuss a compromise that Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) was writing.

That plan would cost about $400 billion over 10 years, according to a Democratic aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Committee spokesman Michael Siegel confirmed that the compromise would allow private insurers to administer the benefit.

In areas that typically have trouble attracting private insurers, such as rural parts of the country, the government would try to lure plans.

Supporters of the rejected $160-billion proposal said the plan deserved a second look.

"It could be a base to work with," said Sen. Charles Hagel (R-Neb.), an author of the plan with Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.).

Unlike the two other plans, which require the government to pay a portion of a senior's drug costs immediately, the plan considered Wednesday helps mostly poor and middle-income senior citizens only after they have already spent a considerable amount of money on prescription drugs.

It incorporates President Bush's call to promote private drug discount cards as a way for seniors to save money on prescriptions.

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