WASHINGTON -- President Bush offered a quick fix for helping the elderly get prescriptions and said a broader Medicare overhaul will come later. To immediate criticism that his plan doesn't go far enough, however, Bush said he's open to compromise.
The president didn't reveal the cost of the prescription drug proposal he sent Congress on Monday. Aides said the dollar figures would come when he presents a budget. He and Republican leaders of the House and Senate were meeting Tuesday to discuss the budget and tax cuts.
The proposal would help states subsidize prescription drug costs for millions of older, poorer Americans. Called "Immediate Helping Hand," the program would give money to states to finance their own programs. It would expire in four years or whenever comprehensive drug coverage is implemented.
The prescription drug plan he sent to Capitol Hill set up a clash with lawmakers hungry for a more sweeping Medicare overhaul now, who say Bush's incremental approach does too little.
"Mr. President, let's not waste time on this proposal," Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., said in a prepared statement. "It should be buried, quickly and deeply, as a bad idea."
Medicare generally does not provide coverage for most drugs prescribed outside a hospital, although many recipients get drug coverage by signing up for a Medicare HMO or by purchasing private supplemental plans. One-third of senior citizens have no drug coverage. Congressional Democrats put the figure at about 14 million people.
The proposal is meant to cover the full cost of prescription drugs for individual Medicare recipients who have incomes up to $11,600 but are ineligible for Medicaid, government-paid health care for the indigent and disabled. Married couples with incomes up to $15,700 would be eligible.
For those with slightly higher incomes -- $15,000 for individuals, $20,300 for married couples -- Bush's plan would offer subsidies to cover at least half the cost of drug plan premiums.
All Medicare recipients would have exceptionally high drug costs covered.
The plan is based on one Bush made in the campaign to spend $48 billion in four years to help states cover drug costs for the older poor until broader Medicare reforms can be brought into effect.
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