• 68°

Prescription benefits can work for everyone

By By Sonny Callahan
U.S. Representative
A recent column touched on a plan introduced by the House Republican leadership to make prescription drug benefits available to our nation's elderly.
Before the ink was dry, my office had received a number of calls and letters asking for more specifics.  While most of the inquiries were simply seeking additional information, a few letters felt the tone of the column was too one-sided.
In fact, one lady, who probably is not a life-long fan, said the Republican plan was basically full of baloney.  
She went on to suggest the only hope for prescription drug benefits for Medicare patients is for the vice president to get a promotion and for the Democrats to regain control of Congress.
Perhaps she is right, but the facts speak to the contrary.
First and foremost, during the 40 years the Democrats controlled the House of Representatives, prescription drug benefits were barely even mentioned.
Granted, while the House Republican plan is by no means perfect, I can honestly say this is the first real effort since Medicare was created to expand the program by providing our seniors with affordable drug coverage.
The key here, my friends, is what is affordable?
If your only goal is to make prescription drug benefits free and not worry about the price tag, then this nice lady may be right.
But the proposal being advocated by the House Democrat minority relies almost exclusively on the Health Care Financing Administration (HCFA) to administer the prescription drug benefit.   
And let me tell you, if you want a classic example of a federal bureaucracy which has grown into a nightmare, HCFA is one fine candidate for consideration.
Time and time again, HCFA has proven it is incapable of properly regulating a private sector health insurance product.  
And don't forget, despite the best efforts of the Clinton-Gore administration in 1993, health care remains a privately-administered commodity. 
Furthermore, HCFA has failed to implement legislatively required payment reforms in eight separate health care sectors.  
Every month of delay that HCFA stalls implementation of changes in the prospective payment system, for example, costs seniors roughly $75 million in higher co-payments.
Now you tell me, if HCFA can't handle its current responsibilities, how in the devil can we expect it to administer such a huge new benefit?
That's not to say the Democrat plan and the Republican plan don't share similar goals.  
Both plans offer a universal, voluntary benefit.  And both plans give the most help to the neediest in society.  
However, the one introduced in May by House Speaker Denny Hastert is stronger, at least in my opinion, because it is not a government, one-size-fits-all approach.
In the end, our plan gives seniors and the disabled more options to choose the drug coverage which best fits their personal needs, rather than just one government-administered benefit. Our plan would also do more for those seniors who have runaway out-of-pocket drug costs.  
Additionally, AARP, one of the nation's strongest voices for seniors, has confirmed that our plan is indeed a viable prescription drug benefit offered under Medicare to every beneficiary.
Both Vice President Gore and Governor Bush agree that our seniors shouldn't have to choose between paying rent or putting food on the table and buying the medicine they need to remain healthy.
The same can be said for the majority of both Democrats and Republicans in Congress.
The real debate on this issue boils down to this: whom do you trust more to make this program work the federal government or the private sector?
Regardless whom you prefer, let me encourage you to take the time to find out more of the facts.  The public library is a good place to start. 
Until next week, take care and God Bless.