VT delegation divided on Medicare drug plan

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(Host) Vermont’s congressional delegation is divided on a new Medicare prescription drug plan.

Senator Patrick Leahy and Congressman Bernie Sanders oppose it while Senator Jim Jeffords plans to vote for it.

VPRs Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) The legislation, which is expected to cost $400 billion over the next 10 years, was drafted primarily by Republican congressional leaders with very little Democratic input.

Beginning in 2006, Medicare recipients will be able to enroll in a program at a cost of roughly $400 a year – this premium would be reduced or eliminated for lower income seniors.

Each participant will be responsible for the first $250 of coverage and 25% of all costs up to $2,200.

Additional federal coverage would not be available until a person accumulates $3,600 dollars in out of pocket expenses.

At this point, participants will be required to pay 5% of all additional costs.

Senator Jim Jeffords says the bill is not perfect but it’s better than nothing.

(Jeffords) It’s $400 billion, and if we don’t grab it and use it and work it into the budget – especially with this administration – it may be gone to some other giveaways, so I’m going to support it.

(Kinzel) Senator Patrick Leahy has several concerns about the legislation, including a provision that allows private health plans to compete directly with Medicare in six urban areas beginning in 2010. Leahy says the legislation needs a lot more review.

(Leahy) I don’t think that anything that’s going to be the biggest change in Medicare in decades should be something where, ‘trust us, vote for it, we’ll show what’s in it later on’ – I’m not willing to do that.

(Kinzel) Congressman Bernie Sanders says he’s very disappointed that a provision making it any easier for consumers to purchase drugs from Canada has been dropped from the final bill.

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

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