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Bush to propose drug discounts for seniors

By Kelly Wallace
CNN White House Correspondent

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush is expected to announce a plan Thursday to provide seniors with pharmacy discount cards to obtain drugs at reduced prices, a senior administration official told CNN.

The plan does not require congressional approval and is expected to be implemented by the Department of Health and Human Services by January, allowing seniors to receive discounts "anywhere from 15 to 30 percent," a senior Bush adviser said.

"It's a discount card that will be crafted administratively for use in January," the senior adviser said.

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Bush plans to outline the new plan as well as his "principles" for legislation to reform the Medicare system and provide prescription drug coverage to seniors at a White House event Thursday, before sending his ideas to Capitol Hill.

The president will "reiterate his commitment to making prescription drugs affordable as quickly as possible," said the senior adviser.

The plan would nationalize an initiative that is already under way by some private companies. Companies that buy prescription drugs in bulk would sell cards to Medicare patients. The cards could be used at any participating pharmacy to obtain prescriptions at reduced prices.

The more companies that participate, the greater the discounts, and the more places where seniors could buy drugs at reduced prices, the senior adviser said.

The White House has been talking with companies such as Wal-Mart about participating, the official added.

The pharmacy drug card is the administration's second attempt to provide quick relief to seniors facing the high cost of prescription drugs. The administration had earlier proposed providing temporary block grants to states to help cover the drug costs for elderly residents, but lawmakers rejected that plan.

Aides said the proposals Bush will unveil Thursday to reform the Medicare system will be similar to what he proposed during the presidential campaign, such as making preventative care available to seniors, creating more health-care options for seniors and providing prescription drug coverage to low-income seniors.

White House officials would not reveal specifics but said the president believes Medicare reform and a prescription drug benefit need to be treated together, not as separate issues.

"Adding a prescription drug benefit to a system that needs reform is not the right approach," the adviser said.

During the presidential campaign, Bush proposed covering the drug costs for the poorest seniors, providing some help to other Medicare patients to deal with their drug costs and covering the costs of seniors whose expenditures topped $6,000 a year.

Medicare reform is one of the six priorities Bush laid out at the start of his administration to tackle during this first year, but the president, until now, has not outlined his ideas in detail about what he hopes to do.

• U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
• The White House

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