House Battles Over Seniors' Prescription Drug Plan

By Bruce Sullivan | July 7, 2008 | 8:26 PM EDT

( - With the clock ticking toward their Fourth of July recess, the House of Representatives is engaged in a heated partisan fight over how to provide the nation's 39 million seniors with affordable prescription drugs without compromising the quality of their healthcare or jeopardizing Medicare itself.

Republicans pushed their prescription drug benefit plan through the House Ways and Means Committee last week, and it is expected to be voted on the House floor this week, possibly as early as Tuesday.

However, the GOP plan is meeting heavy resistance from the Democrats, who Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-IL) says are trying to block passage of the bill for political reasons. "If they want to stop us from passing a drug bill, shame on them," Hastert told the Washington Post.

House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt (D-MO) is urging his fellow Democrats to vote against the GOP prescription drug plan, saying that it is an attempt to privatize Medicare. "The Republicans oppose Medicare itself. They always have," said Gephardt.

Not so, say the Republicans who argue that their plan, which calls on private insurers to offer drug benefit plans for all Medicare recipients, will keep drug costs down in the long run.

The GOP plan would cost taxpayers about $40 billion over five years and subsidizes roughly 35 percent of insurance companies costs. Deductibles, co-payments and uncovered charges vary, but the standard policy has monthly premiums of about $35 to $40. There is a $250 annual deductible and 50 percent co-payments for each prescription.

The Democratic plan, backed by President Clinton, has no deductible but also includes a 50 percent co-pay. Both plans set aside the deductible and the co-pay for senior citizens with annual incomes below 135 percent of the federal poverty level.

However, the Democratic plan, newly updated this weekend by Clinton, would cost an estimated $79 billion over the next five years and about $253 billion over the next decade.