Republicans, Democrats Spar on Prescription Drug Costs

By Susan Jones | July 7, 2008 | 8:23 PM EDT

( - The new prescription drug entitlement, touted as a success by the Bush administration, is keeping prescription drug costs too high, Democrats are complaining.

But Republicans note that the average cost of Medicare prescription drug plans will remain stable or decline in 2007 -- something that wouldn't have happened if Democrats had their way.

Bush administration officials announced on Tuesday that the average premium paid by Medicare Part D beneficiaries in 2007 will remain around $24 a month or less, the same as it is this year -- and lower than previous estimates of $37 a month for 2007.

Nevertheless, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi complained on Wednesday that the prescription drug program blocks Medicare from negotiating for lower prices.

"This means that Medicare beneficiaries are paying too much for their prescription drugs, and big pharmaceutical companies are reaping the benefits," she said in a press release.

Pelosi also revived criticism of the so-called "donut hole," a gap in coverage which requires patients to pay 100 percent of their drug costs between $2,250 and $5,100. Coverage kicks in again after total drug costs reach $5,100.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated that about a quarter of all Medicare beneficiaries will amass drug spending that pushes them into the "donut hole."

Pelosi promised that Democrats would "provide common-sense improvements to the flawed Bush prescription drug program."

"America's seniors and people with disabilities want and deserve a simple, affordable, and reliable Medicare Prescription Drug benefit. Unfortunately, that's not what they got with the Bush drug program," she said.

"We will begin by making prescription drugs more affordable for our seniors by allowing Medicare to negotiate for lower prices," Pelosi promised.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) said seniors are "reaping the benefits" of low-cost prescription drugs through the Medicare Prescription Drug Plan.

"Unfortunately the Democrats have taken the wrong approach," he said on Wednesday.

Hastert noted that during committee consideration of the prescription drug bill, Democratic leaders supported a failed amendment that would have set a uniform premium of $35 a month in 2006, to be adjusted for inflation in subsequent years.

News that the average premium will remain at $24 a month "is a great example of what happens when the market is allowed to negotiate prescription drug costs," Hastert said.

He added that increased competition among prescription drug plans - something Pelosi and other Democrats voted against - "has allowed seniors to make smart choices that are keeping premiums low."

Hastert accused Pelosi of "politicizing" a good program.

"What has she done to encourage sign-up for lower cost prescription drug coverage through Medicare Part D?" he asked. "Instead of working for lower drug costs, Democratic Leader Pelosi would rather play politics with seniors' prescription drug costs."

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