WASHINGTON (AP) -- Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., accused pharmaceutical companies and their political allies of trying to defeat legislation that would give older Americans a Medicare prescription drug benefit.
"They oppose allowing older Americans to come together to negotiate lower drug prices," Wellstone said Saturday in the Democrats' weekly radio address. "They continue to slip in special congressional loopholes to keep lower-priced generic drugs off the market."
The Senate has been debating two competing plans to provide a Medicare prescription drug benefit and is scheduled to vote on them Tuesday. Lawmakers have been meeting to try to craft a compromise because neither has the 60 votes needed for passage.
Both Medicare bills are being offered as amendments to a generic-drug bill that Democrats are using for the overall debate. Medicaid is the nation's health insurance program for the poor.
Wellstone favors the 10-year, $594 billion plan supported by Senate Democrats. The plan would require beneficiaries to pay a $25 monthly premium and a $10 copayment on generic drugs or a $40 copayment on brand-name drugs. Out-of-pocket expenditures would be capped at $4,000 a year.
"We should use the purchasing power of the more than 40 million Medicare beneficiaries to bargain with the pharmaceutical industry for lower drug prices," Wellstone said.
The Bush administration and congressional Republicans have said the Democratic plan would require the government to increase taxes, cut all government programs or drain the Medicare trust fund early.
The White House supports another 10-year plan offered by a coalition of Republicans and Democrats. The proposal would cost $370 billion, with $340 billion going toward a drug benefit and the rest on Medicare improvements.
Under that plan, beneficiaries would pay a monthly premium of $24 and have a $250 yearly deductible. Once the deductible was met, the government would pay 50 percent up to $3,450 in drug spending.
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