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Strong Prognosis For Rx Plan

President Bush continued his push for Medicare prescription coverage, stopping in Connecticut to urge lawmakers to send him the politically popular bill by the Fourth of July.

"Medicine is modernizing and Medicare isn't," Mr. Bush said Thursday.

The Senate Finance Committee was expected to approve the $400 billion measure later in the day, setting the stage for debate on the Senate floor beginning next week.

Anticipating committee approval, Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., said, "we're about to pass landmark legislation."

At New Britain General Hospital cafeteria, Mr. Bush held a round-table discussion with seniors who pay hundreds of dollars a month for prescription drugs

"There's story after story after story all across America about people wondering whether they can afford lifesaving drugs in their later years and Congress must act," Mr. Bush said. "Congress must understand we've got a problem with Medicare, they should not politicize the issue, they ought to focus on what's best for our fellow Americans and get a package done."

The president stopped in Connecticut on his way to Kennebunkport, Maine, where he's spending four nights with his parents at their Walker's Point compound. He will get to the oceanside estate in time to wish his father, former President Bush, a happy 79th birthday. Golf, fishing, attending the wedding of a family friend and spending Father's Day with his dad, are among the activities planned for the long weekend.

"I'm on my way to Maine where I'm going to spend the weekend with one of my favorite seniors," Mr. Bush said. "I'm not going to tell you how old my mother is because I want to have a place to sleep."

In New Britain, Mr. Bush also announced that the administration was finalizing a Food and Drug Administration rule to improve access to prescription drugs by closing loopholes that slowed getting less costly generic drugs to pharmacy shelves. The rule prevents brand-name companies from filing multiple lawsuits to block generic drugs.

"By taking these actions, we will bring generic drugs to the market much more quickly — in some cases, years earlier," he said.

It was the second time this week that Mr. Bush has stumped for the prescription drug benefit. On Wednesday, Mr. Bush spoke in Chicago at the Illinois State Medical Society, pleading with Congress to pass a measure that would mark the largest expansion of the federal health care program that covers 40 million older Americans.

Signing a prescription drug benefit — even a relatively modest one that doesn't take effect until two years after the next election — would help Republicans fend off Democrats who claim that Mr. Bush's recent tax favor the rich and punish low-income families.

A prescription drug benefit was central to Mr. Bush's campaign for the presidency in 2000, and was a hallmark of his claim to represent a new "compassionate conservatism."

Many Democrats think the GOP-backed plans don't go far enough to meet the needs of seniors. Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said the Senate version is seriously flawed and is seeking amendments to broaden coverage. But even Daschle, acknowledging the growing momentum for the legislation on Capitol Hill, said he thought it would pass.

The legislation has two main goals: Give Medicare recipients help paying their pharmacy bills and shore up Medicare's finances by creating a new managed care option within the government-run program.

The president had wanted to give seniors bigger prescription benefits if they enrolled in Preferred Provider Organizations, managed care systems used in the private insurance market. Under the current measures, seniors would get the same prescription drug benefit whether they purchase coverage under traditional Medicare, or choose to enroll in a PPO.

The House is working on a bill of its own and is ready to move quickly on it.