A prescription drug plan for seniors proposed by President Bush would encourage millions of older Americans to join drug-buying clubs for a fee and become eligible for discounts.
Democrats advocate a wider plan to expand Medicare to cover prescription drugs. As CBS's John Roberts reports, this key issue on the national agenda is back on the front burner after months of lobbying, debate, and delay.
Fourteen months after we first met her, after all the campaign promises, 80-year-old Rita Butler has this spirited appraisal of what the government has done to lower her extraordinary monthly prescription drug costs:
"Not a damn thing!" says Butler.
Tomorrow, in the very first step to ease the burden for millions of people like Rita, President Bush will offer seniors a drug discount card that the White House says will take 10-30% off the price of prescriptions.
"What one president said--'a chicken in every pot'--that's what it would mean," says Butler. "As it is now, it's either medicine or food."
For a one-time $25 fee, seniors could buy into one of a number of drug discount programs Medicare would coordinate with private insurers. All Medicare recipients would be eligible--but not all popular medications would be offered at big savings.
It's a false promise, says the National Association of Chain Drug Stores.
"It gives seniors the sense that they're gonna be able to go into the pharmacy of their choice and receive a substantial discount on the cost of their prescription medication, and that just isn't the case," says the association's Craig Fuller.
Democrats today dismissed the discount card as a half-measure. But the powerful seniors lobby, the AARP, says it's a measure they can live with, if President Bush is prepared to go further.
"We think the discount card is a good step forward," says Bill Novelli of the AARP, "And then of course what we really need is, we need to finish the journey and we need a prescription drug benefit in Medicare."
The president will go further tomorrow, when he announces broader proposals to modernize Medicare--including an increased focus on preventive care, better coverage, and more options for seniors--and his plans for full prescription drug coverage for seniors.
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