Vermont AARP critical of gaps in prescription bill

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(Host) The state’s largest senior citizens group, Vermont AARP, says it has serious concerns about a prescription drug plan being considered in Congress. The organization says it won’t support a plan to provide coverage under Medicare unless some key changes are made to the legislation.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) There’s been an important development in the debate over an effort to extend prescription drug coverage to the Medicare program. After reading the fine print of different bills passed by the House and the Senate, AARP, an organization that has more than 35 million members nationwide and more than 100,000 in Vermont, is expressing disappointment in both plans.

Vermont AARP Director Bobbi Kamen says both bills contain some significant flaws. Kamen says her organization will oppose this legislation if their concerns are not addressed in the final compromise plan:

(Kamen) “We were very happy to at least get something on the table and something to the conference committee. But the bill needs to be improved before we can totally support it and we really have to address our primary concerns before we can get behind a bill.”

(Kinzel) Kamen says she’s very concerned that both plans include a coverage gap. For instance, in the House proposal consumers have to pay the full cost of all drugs if they spend between $2,000 and $4,900:

(Kamen) “We have some serious concerns about that because many people would not be covered. They’d be paying into a premium and not getting the coverage that they need to pay for their regular cost.”

(Kinzel) Congressman Bernie Sanders is very pleased that AARP has gotten directly involved in the details of this issue. Earlier this week, Sanders strongly criticized the plan because the he feels that the proposals don’t offer enough financial benefit to seniors. Sanders says the bill could be greatly improved if Congress adds a provision to the legislation to allow individuals and pharmacies to purchase their drugs in Canada, where prices are significantly lower than in this country:

(Sanders) “And the key issue here is does Congress have the courage to take on the very powerful pharmaceutical industry and make the simple point that Americans can no longer be asked to pay by far the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs and if we can lower prices in this country to what they are in the worldwide level then we could put together a really strong and effective prescription drug benefit under Medicare.”

(Kinzel) Sanders says a House vote on the re-importation provision could come as early as next week.

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

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