House bill would ensure federal workers keep drug benefits

Wednesday, July 9, 2003

WASHINGTON -- The House voted Tuesday to guarantee that federal workers, including members of Congress, keep their current prescription drug benefits when they retire even if Congress agrees to a Medicare drug bill that provides significantly less generous benefits.

Democrats, while supporting the legislation approved by voice vote, said it was evidence the White House and House Republicans were not following through on statements that American seniors were entitled to the benefits available to lawmakers.

The House measure, sponsored by Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., prevents the government, as a cost-saving step, from creating plans for retirees that differ from the benefits enjoyed by current federal workers.

Davis, chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, said his legislation was "good protection for our retired federal employees," making sure that there wasn't separation between what current employees and retirees get in health benefits.

One concern is that the federal government, and private employers that currently offer drug benefits, would drop those benefits, driving recipients into the new Medicare plan.

Daniel Adcock of the National Association of Retired Federal Employees, said the government should provide a model of maintaining coverage and not using any future Medicare law as a vehicle to reduce benefits.

The Medicare proposals are the best possible under the current financial limitations, he said. "Our only concern is that those who already have (coverage) aren't brought down to that level."

But Rep. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said lawmakers were voting to protect themselves and other federal employees so they "can continue to enjoy good health benefits, not the inferior plan that President Bush and Republicans are foisting on Congress."

Brown pointed to findings by the Congressional Research Service that a prescription drug benefit similar to that offered in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program's Blue Cross/Blue Shield plan would increase the value of Medicare by about $2,700 a year in 2006. That figure would be higher if beneficiaries' cost-sharing was included.

The benefit in the Senate and House bills, assuming all cost-sharing counts toward the out-of-pocket maximum, would be between $1,800 and $1,900.

Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland said the bill backed up Democratic claims that the GOP-backed Medicare drug bill was insufficient. "If the Democrats were wrong in saying that benefits were going to be reduced, why do they need this bill to protect federal employees?"

Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, has proposed similar legislation in the Senate.

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The bill is H.R. 2631.

On the Net:

National Association of Retired Federal Employees: http://www.narfe.com/

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