Pallone: Republican Prescription Drug Bill is Poison Pill for Seniors Looking to Congress for Real Help

Dec 1, 2003

Trenton, NJ---U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, joined other members of the New Jersey congressional delegation today at a news conference in Trenton to voice his opposition to a Republican prescription drug bill that Congress approved last month and President Bush is expected to sign into law soon. Pallone gave the following statement at today s news conference.

"Seniors should not be deceived into believing their prescription drug needs were ever the focus of Republicans when they were drafting this final bill. The Republicans plan bribes HMOs with billions of dollars in the hopes they ll provide seniors assistance, allows pharmaceutical companies to continue to charge high prices and privatizes Medicare down the line.

"This legislation is not a prescription drug benefit under Medicare. In fact, it forces seniors to go outside Medicare to get prescription drug assistance from an HMO, the same HMOs that dropped almost 200,000 seniors from coverage last year alone after concluding that Medicare beneficiaries were not profitable.

"The Republican bill will kill the Medicare program. By 2010, the legislation calls for a demonstration program privatizing Medicare for millions of Americans, possibly including more than 180,000 seniors in South Jersey. Private plans, concerned with nothing but the bottom line, enroll only healthy beneficiaries, forcing traditional Medicare to become a plan for the very sick, very frail and very elderly.

"Seniors also should not be fooled into thinking this legislation will provide a substantial drug benefit. The Republican conference agreement passed last month sets no requirements as to what HMOs charge seniors in either premiums or deductibles. And, even if HMOs charge seniors what Republicans suggest in this bill, seniors will still pay $4,020 out of their own pocket on their first $5,100 in drug costs thanks to a nearly $3,000 gap in coverage where seniors get no assistance.

"The legislation ignores the skyrocketing cost of prescription drugs, forcing seniors to continue to endure 18-percent annual increases in drug costs.

"For years, Ive been fighting to expand Medicare to finally provide seniors with a guaranteed prescription drug benefit. However, I refused to force seniors to swallow this poison pill."