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Bush unveils plan to cut drug costs for seniors

Bush announces his intention to expand Medicare and give seniors drug discounts  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush on Thursday called on Congress to expand Medicare coverage and unveiled a plan for seniors to buy prescription drugs at reduced prices.

Bush said the Medicare funding structure "doesn't make sense" and its costs are rising too fast. He called on Congress to strengthen the program and expand its coverage.

"We need to bring Medicare into the 21st century, to expand its coverage, improve its services, strengthen its financing and give seniors more control over the health care they receive," Bush said. "Medicare's most pressing challenge is the lack of coverage for prescription drugs."

Bush was joined in a White House ceremony by Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson and several members of Congress.

Highlights from President Bush's Medicare announcement

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CNN's Kelly Wallace reports Democrats say Bush's plan is only a Band-Aid (July 12)

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Info, savings key to Medicare discount  

Group blames marketing for drug costs  
CNN Access: Sec. Thompson details Medicare changes, drug discounts  

Transcript of Bush's remarks  
Message Board: Health care  

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.

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 more wide-ranging effort to reform Medicare, however, would require congressional action. Bush outlined his general principles, saying seniors who want to stay in Medicare just the way it is should be allowed to do so. But he also said there should be a variety of plans -- including private plans that would be regulated by the government -- from which seniors could pick. All plans, he said, should include prescription drug coverage.

Addressing the high cost of medicine was the heart of Bush's message Thursday. He said advances in medicine have allowed some drugs to replace surgery to keep people healthy. The Medicare system, however, has not kept up with the times.

"As medicine advances and the needs of our seniors change, Medicare, too, must advance, and it, too, must change," Bush said. "This generation of leaders must honor and renew the promise of Medicare by strengthening Medicare for the future."

The prescription drug card, he said, would cost seniors "a dollar or two a month." 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.

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

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