Clinton Rips GOP Prescription Plan

With his political enemies in Philadelphia, President Clinton went on the attack in Tampa.

His target: the Republican prescription drug plan.

His weapon of choice: an 81-year-old woman with a broken nose and a heart condition.

Sylvia Kessler says she's been forced to work two jobs -- just to pay for her medications.

"I think it's a bunch of baloney, and I know that America can do better," she said.

As CBS News Correspondent Byron Pitts reports, Kessler took the first shot -- then the president unloaded.

"Too many people are literally forced to choose between filling their prescriptions and filling their grocery carts," said Mr. Clinton, who took a break from a trio of Florida fundraisers to speak before an audience of some 160 older and disabled people at the Barksdale Special Programs Center.

Mr. Clinton has urged Congress to strengthen Medicare with a voluntary prescription drug benefit to all 39 million Medicare beneficiaries regardless of income.

Republican congressional leaders say the drug coverage should be reserved for the most financially needy. Their plan calls for private health plans to offer drug benefits and government subsidies to pay drug costs for the neediest seniors.

The administration contends that would leave out 6 million Medicare beneficiaries with incomes above the poverty line.

"It's clear that this plan is basically designed for the pharmaceutical companies that make the drugs, not the seniors who take them," Mr. Clinton said. "Charging higher prices for Americans enables them (the companies) to sell the drugs at much lower prices in other countries."

"It's unbelievable," he said.

As the president battled the GOP over prescription drugs, a new study released Monday shows Americans 65 and over have seen a drastic jump in prescription drug costs: From an average of $559 a year in 1992 to a current average $1,205. That number is expected to jump to $2,810 apiece by 2010, according to the study.

Prescription drugs now account for about 10 percent of seniors' health costs and will probably rise to 13.3 percent in 2010, it said.

"If prices continue to skyrocket and the number of prescriptions continue to increase ... seniors will find drugs unaffordable and their lives and their health will be in jeopardy," said Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, a group which advocates drug coverage by Medicare.

The burden of paying for drugs fall disproportionately on older people, the group said, noting that Americans 65 and over pay 42 cents of every dollar spent on prescription drugs, even though they account for only 13 percent of the population. The report said they also pay more per pill because their purchases account for only 34 percent of total prescriptions.

The study also indicated that the senior's average cost per prescription has risen dramatically, from $28.50 in 1992 to $42.30 now, and is projected to jumto $72.94 in 2010.

This is bad news, Pollack said, at a time when seniors also are buying more prescriptions than ever. The elderly got by on about 20 prescriptions per year in 1992, but now buy about 29 annually, he said, and are expected to buy about 39 by 2010.

The study was based on data gathered by Medicare, the federal health plan for the aged and disabled. Projections for future costs were developed by the PRIME Institute, a consulting group at the University of Minnesota.

The industry argues prescription drugs are cheaper than surgery.

"Today, medicines are often the most effective and cost effective treatments for many patients," said Judith Bello of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, or PhRMA.

Bello, the group's executive vice president, told Congress in June that lawmakers should allow free-market competition and consumer choice to contain costs.

Alan F. Holmer, president of PhRMA, said much of the increase in seniors' drug spending is driven by advanced drugs that are more effective.

"That's good news for patients, for whom medicines are the most cost-effective form of health care," he said. "They keep patients out of the hospital, off the surgery table, on the job and in the home."

PhRMA spokesman Jeffrey L. Trewhitt said the report's figures belie the hidden benefits of advanced drugs. New cardiac medications, for instance, may cost an elderly patient $1,200 annually, but that is far cheaper than a heart operation, which costs about $42,000.

A CBS News-New York Times survey finds 69 percent of Republican voters support the Bush prescription drug plan that the president laced into Monday. But only 37 percent of the Republican delegates in Philadelphia are willing to go even as far as the Bush plan. And just 3 percent of them say healthcare is the top issue this year.