White House: GOP Drug Plan Flawed

Tuesday, June 13th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Clinton said a Republican-backed health care plan ``claims to help everybody but is a false hope for most,'' as the White House and congressional Republicans touted dueling programs to help older Americans pay for medication.

Clinton noted bipartisan support for an expansion of Medicare to cover the cost of prescription drugs, but said only his plan offers the elderly an honest deal. Adding the coverage — which was left out of the original Medicare program created in 1965 — is a popular election year issue.

Clinton and fellow Democrats claim the GOP plan covers too few people, while Republicans claim the White House plan to too expensive.

``If we were in deficit and trying to do this, I would understand why we would say, 'Well, we can't help everybody so we'll just help a few.''' Clinton said.

``But that's not the situation. We can afford to do this right, and we must not pass a plan that claims to offer something to everybody and is a false hope to most and therefore inadequate.''

Both plans would cover the cost of prescription drugs for older people and the disabled — differences come in the cost and scope of coverage.

Clinton proposes a uniform price for drugs, which would be available to all elderly and disabled people who use the federal program. Those who opted for the drug coverage would pay a small co-payment toward their prescriptions.

The competing Republican plan being detailed Tuesday relies in part on an idea that Clinton claims has already failed — the so-called ``Medigap'' coverage offered by private insurers to cover the cost of drugs.

Many elderly in the audience for a White House press conference Tuesday said they cannot afford that private coverage.

Clinton and about a dozen lawmakers from rural areas also pointed Tuesday to a new White House analysis of the plight of the rural elderly, who generally pay more for their drugs.

``In short, rural areas are being denied lifesaving treatment because of where they live,'' said Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., who asked for the study.

Older Americans who live far from major cities are 60 percent less likely to get the drugs they need, and they pay around 25 percent more for the medications, the White House study of Medicare recipients said. About 29 percent of rural elderly spend more than 5 percent of their income on out-of-pocket prescription drugs, compared to 21 percent of city-dwelling seniors, the same study found.

In addition, rural Medicare recipients are 50 percent less likely to have any coverage for the cost of prescription drugs, the White House claims.