Medicare overhaul adds drug benefit

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

WASHINGTON -- The Republican-controlled Congress sent President Bush historic Medicare legislation Tuesday, combining a new prescription drug benefit with measures to control costs before the baby boom generation reaches retirement age.

Bush is expected to sign the bill with a flourish, then trumpet its enactment during his bid for re-election next year.

But within hours of a 54-44 Senate vote, Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle introduced legislation to repeal several of the bill's most controversial provisions and to allow the importation of lower-priced prescription drugs from Canada and Europe.

Apart from a new prescription drug benefit, the legislation invites private firms to sell insurance coverage to 40 million Medicare beneficiaries.

While some supporters praised the bill in glowing terms and some critics denounced it with equal vehemence, many lawmakers said the far-reaching legislation had confronted them with a difficult choice.

Missouri Sens. Kit Bond and Jim Talent voted in favor of the bill, which sharply divided Missouri's House delegation. All four state Democrats and two Republicans opposed it, while three Republicans voted for it.

Both Missouri senators said the measure isn't perfect, but Talent called it a significant achievement.

"We need to step back, get away from the weeds and look at what's been done here," Talent said in an interview. "We have filled a gap in Medicare that has existed for 38 years and has been a really significant burden for seniors for at least 10 years."

In the House last week, Missouri Republican Reps. Todd Akin and Jo Ann Emerson opposed the measure, as did Democratic Reps. William Lacy Clay, Dick Gephardt, Karen McCarthy and Ike Skelton.

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