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Lott, Hastert ask Clinton to move on prescription drug coverage

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Republican congressional leaders called Monday for President Clinton to agree to a short-term solution for prescription drug coverage for low income senior citizens.

In a letter to Clinton, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois, and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, asked the president to agree to five changes. The changes include "immediate assistance" on prescription drug coverage for low-income seniors and a measure allowing the importation of U.S.-manufactured drugs to the United States.

The importation proposal was approved by both the House and Senate and is part of the agriculture spending bill. A compromise has not yet been worked out between the two branches and the measure is strongly opposed by the pharmaceutical industry.

"We are deeply concerned that our fundamental disagreement over providing broad prescription drug coverage will lead to inaction this year on this important issue," wrote the leaders. "We hope that partisan bickering would not prevent us from helping those who need it most now."

Republicans dismissed out of hand Clinton's call for a new Medicare benefit providing prescription drug coverage to all recipients when he first proposed it. However, the popularity of the issue has prompted a change of tactics so Republicans are now trying to come up with a benefit for those seniors who either do not have drug coverage now or are too poor to afford it.

The GOP proposal passed by the House would provide incentives to the private insurance market to provide the benefit, but the insurance industry says it is not interested because only the sickest Medicare recipients would apply for it. The Senate has not yet approved its version of the bill.

The other changes proposed by the two leaders are a Medicare "lock box" to protect designated Medicare trust money from other uses and $21 billion for five years for Medicare providers whose reimbursement rate was sharply reduced in a budget bill several years ago.

House Republican sources predict Congress will not pass a prescription drug benefit that can win support from the president but are hopeful of getting the other items on the wish list.

Democrats say the letter is a public relations ploy and an attempt by Republicans to appear to be taking action on a popular issue.


Monday, September 25, 2000


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