Jeffords introduces tri-partisan drug paln

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(Host) As Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. Senate battle over rival prescription drug plans for Medicare, a proposal sponsored by Independent Senator James Jeffords is emerging as a possible compromise solution.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) For the past two weeks, the U.S. Senate has been debating legislation that would provide prescription drug assistance to elderly people.

Democrats are backing a plan that would be run by the federal government. The proposal, which would limit out of pocket expenses for Medicare recipients, is projected to cost roughly $600 billion over the next six years.

The Republican plan takes a very different approach. It utilizes the private health insurance system by providing seniors with subsidies to help pay for their drug coverage. The price tag for this plan is about half of the Democratic proposal.

Both plans failed to win enough support earlier this week in test votes on the Senate floor. Now attention is focused on the so called “tri-partisan plan.” It’s a proposal sponsored by Independent Jim Jeffords, Louisana Democrat John Breaux and Utah Republican Orin Hatch. It uses the government approach of the Democratic plan but its overall benefit package is closer to the Republican proposal.

Jeffords, who is a member of the Senate Finance Committee, thinks the time may be right for the tri partisan plan to emerge as a serious alternative:

(Jeffords) “Our plan is really much better for the low income people. We work within Medicare to get improvements that the other plans don’t. Ours is a much more thoroughly adaptive to helping people up and down the line and keeping the total cost within reason. The Democratic plan is billions and billions of dollars more than ours.”

(Kinzel) Jeffords says it’s critical for Medicare to provide some meaningful drug coverage because the cost of these drugs is spiraling out of control:

(Jeffords) “With respect to the fact that so many breakthroughs have come in the pharmaceutical area that we need the special programs to make sure that our senior citizens can afford to have these pharmaceuticals within their payment ability.”

(Kinzel) Jeffords is hoping that the tri partisan plan will come up for a vote on the Senate floor in the next week.

For Vermont Public Radio. I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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