WASHINGTON -- Medicare recipients would receive protection against catastrophic drug costs and the low-income elderly would get federal subsidies for all their prescription expenses under election-year legislation that Republicans intend to bring to the House floor by Memorial Day.
GOP officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Tuesday the legislation also will incorporate President Bush's proposal for government-issued prescription drug discount cards designed to reduce the cost of medicine for Medicare beneficiaries.
These officials said final details remain to be worked out on the bill, which envisions older Americans receiving coverage from private insurance companies in a market overseen by Medicare.
The program, which officials stressed would be voluntary, is expected to cost the government $350 billion over 10 years.
With House action several weeks away, GOP officials said Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., would commit his rank and file to a set of principles on Medicare and prescription drug coverage on Wednesday. The issues traditionally favor Democrats and are expected to play a major role in this fall's midterm elections, with control of the House at stake.
According to material prepared for release, Hastert was expected to stress a need to lower the cost of prescription drugs immediately and guarantee prescription drug coverage for all older people, as well as a stronger Medicare overall, with more choices and more savings.
"A fair and responsible plan must strengthen Medicare by ensuring the program can deliver necessary health care services, including the addition of an affordable and voluntary drug benefit under Medicare," it said.
Even before Republicans have released their legislation, Democrats were attacking it. "Unfortunately, for that amount of money you can't cover the people who need to be covered," said House Democratic Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo. He called it the same "warmed-over stuff we've seen before."
Many Democrats generally favor a uniform prescription drug benefit to be administered through Medicare.
The $350 billion that House Republicans have set aside over the next decade for prescription drug coverage contrasts with the $190 billion that Bush proposed and is well in excess of the $160 billion earmarked for a prescription drug bill that the GOP pushed through the House two years ago.
The result is a more robust federal benefit than Republicans endorsed in 2000.
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