Clinton blasts drug firms over Medicare Industry: President's plan bad for seniors

Sunday, July 9th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON – President Clinton accused the pharmaceutical industry Saturday of unleashing "a shameless, scorched-earth campaign" aimed at killing his Medicare prescription-drug plan.

Mr. Clinton urged Congress to act on his proposal, saying lawmakers should reject what he called election-year maneuvering and the appeals of "reckless special interests."

In his weekly radio address, Mr. Clinton said his proposal to have the federal government help senior citizens pay for prescription drugs is bogging down in Congress despite what he said was widespread support for it.

"One reason for this is clear," Mr. Clinton said. "The pharmaceutical industry has unleashed a shameless, scorched-earth campaign to thwart the will of the American people."

Mr. Clinton said one "industry-funded group calling itself Citizens for Better Medicare" has saturated the airwaves with advertisements targeting the White House plan.

"Just this week we learned that drug companies have enlisted more than 300 hired-gun lobbyists – more than one for every two members of Congress – and paid them to do everything in their power to block all meaningful reforms," the president said.

He said the drug industry has already spent a combined $236 million on the advertising and lobbying effort.

Mr. Clinton said that the pharmaceutical industry is pushing a private insurance program to deal with prescription needs but that the insurance industry says such a plan won't work and they won't take part.

"You have to give it to the insurance companies; they have been honest here," Mr. Clinton said. "They have said the Republican plan won't work. It's a plan designed for those who make the drugs, not for the seniors who need to take them."

Republican legislation passed by the House last month would extend coverage through government-subsidized policies sold by private insurers. An alternative proposed by Mr. Clinton and supported by most congressional Democrats would establish a standard, government-run Medicare benefit.

"So today I call on Congress to reject that approach and the reckless campaign of narrow special interests and act together in the public interest," Mr. Clinton said.

Mr. Clinton also renewed a standing offer made last month to sign a bill for "marriage penalty" tax relief in exchange for a prescription-drug bill he would accept.

In a statement responding to Mr. Clinton's radio address, Alan F. Holmer, president of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, said Clinton's plan "will inevitably lead to government bureaucrats deciding which medicines will be available."

Citizens for Better Medicare, on its Web site, said that Mr. Clinton's plan would force millions of seniors out of their private prescription drug plans and into the government program.

Prospects for compromise this year are uncertain, but polls show that the issue will probably be a high priority for older voters in this fall's elections.

At the outset, Mr. Clinton's plan would cost retirees about $312 a year in premiums to get 50 percent off the cost of covered prescriptions until they collected a maximum of $1,000 in basic benefits.

Typical drug coverage under the GOP plan would cost beneficiaries about $720 per year in premiums and deductibles to get 50 percent of their prescriptions paid for until they collected a maximum of $1,050 in basic benefits.

Catastrophic coverage to pay all drug costs would kick in if, in a single year, a retiree's drug spending topped $4,000 under Mr. Clinton's plan and $6,000 under the GOP plan.