12 March 2001 00:00 [Source: ICB Americas]Republican congressional health care leaders say they will try to pass comprehensive legislation this year that overhauls the entire Medicare program and adds prescription drug coverage for senior citizens.
After a White House meeting last week with President George W. Bush, the Republican lawmakers characterized comprehensive reform as the engine that would create a new prescription drug benefit.
"The President made it very clear that he wants prescription drugs to be part of [Medicare] modernization," said House Ways and Means Committee chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.).
President Bush voiced his support for using Medicare reform legislation sponsored by Sens. John Breaux (D-La.) and Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) as a starting point for negotiations on restructuring the program, said Rep. Thomas.
Senate Finance Committee chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), who had previously cautioned that Congress would be hard-pressed to do more than tackle the prescription drug issue, said hearings on comprehensive legislation would begin this month, with a vote targeted for July.
He and other lawmakers said they could move swiftly on the complicated issue because of the groundwork of Sens. Breaux and Frist, and Rep. Thomas.
Sen. Breaux and Rep. Thomas chaired a commission two years ago that drafted a reform plan that laid the basis for legislation later crafted by Sens. Breaux and Frist. The bill, which was opposed by former President Bill Clinton and many Demo-crats, would have added a prescription drug benefit to Medicare.
The legislators who met with the President said the Breaux-Frist plan would serve as a model for a new bill that would be developed over the next few months.
Sen. Frist said he expects President Bush will offer a set of principals, though not detailed legislation, that would help guide action on Capitol Hill.
Divisions between Democrats and Republicans over the issues could lead lawmakers to just add a prescription drug benefit to Medicare without making changes in the underlying program.
"A lot of people are afraid to tackle something as big and complex as reforming Medicare," said Sen. Frist.
The administration's fiscal 2002 budget proposal includes $153 billion over the next 10 years for adding a prescription drug benefit to Medicare.
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