Talent unveils compromise plan on prescription drugs

Wednesday, August 21, 2002

If Bill Roth-Roffy had his way, he would never see another prescription drug ad on television.

The 83-year-old resident of Bethesda Orchard Senior Living in Webster Groves, Mo., a St. Louis suburb, believes the TV ads drive up the amount he has to pay for prescription drugs. He told Republican Jim Talent on Tuesday that one way to keep costs low would be to prohibit the ads.

Talent, who is trying to unseat Democratic Sen. Jean Carnahan, said his Medicare prescription drug plan would reduce prices by other means.

He unveiled his "Prescription Medicine Now" proposal during an appearance at the senior living complex here. He also appeared at Cape Girardeau Residential Care Center on Tuesday as part of his campaign tour.

Talent called his plan a compromise that would mix Republican-backed private coverage with Democrat-supported Medicare. And he criticized the Senate, where Democrats have a slim margin of control, for failing to approve a plan to help seniors get prescription drugs more quickly and more cheaply.

Talent's plan would rely on private insurers to administer a prescription drug benefit. Under his plan, those over 65 would pay $20 monthly premiums and a $250 deductible.

The government would pay half of drug costs up to $3,500, including the deductible, and all of drug costs above that level.

Democrats have opposed this approach because it relies on private insurers rather than the government. Talent said his plan offers a compromise because he would have the government step in to offer any coverage not being offered in the private sector.

Compared to 1965 car

Medicare, the government health insurance program for elderly and disabled Americans, did not originally include prescription drug coverage when created in 1965 and still does not.

Talent compared Medicare to a 1965 automobile: "There were no seat belts then. Today all cars come with them. They are not an option."

Talent's plan would cost about $30 billion a year, less than either the House or Senate plans. He argued the Democratic plan supported by Carnahan would cost too much and would not take effect soon enough.

Dan Leistikow, spokesman for Carnahan, said Talent's proposal promises unreliable coverage through the private insurance industry and would not benefit its intended recipients.

Meanwhile, the Missouri Democratic Party criticized Talent for accepting $15,000 in campaign contributions from major pharmaceutical companies one day after a major Senate vote. The July 31 vote was to speed lower-cost generic drugs to the market, which Carnahan supported but which drug companies oppose.

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