Senate urged to support Graham drug bill, reject Grassley bill


Tuesday, July 23, 2002

Senate urged to support Graham drug bill, reject Grassley bill

WASHINGTON, DC — Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports magazine, today urged the U.S. Senate to approve legislation sponsored by Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) to provide Medicare coverage for prescription drugs.
The consumer group also urged senators to reject a competing proposal by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) because it offered less coverage and fewer guarantees.
The two proposals are being offered as amendments to a bill sponsored by Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) to bring more generic drugs to market.
Gail Shearer, the Director of Health Policy Analysis for Consumers Union’s Washington DC office, said the Graham bill “takes an important step in helping seniors and the disabled pay for a portion of their prescription drug bills at a time when costs are spiraling out of control.”
Shearer said the Graham bill would offer affordable premiums for reliable drug coverage, while the Grassley bill “leaves it to the private insurance companies to decide how much people pay for premiums, and it offers no assurance that all Medicare recipients would have access to any coverage at all. The Grassley plan depends mostly on private insurance companies, which have historically failed to provide reliable, affordable coverage to those who need it the most. This bill does not heed the lessons of history. Medicare was created because private insurance did not provide adequate coverage for the most vulnerable people — senior citizens and the disabled. There is little reason to believe that a voluntary plan that depends on private insurance like the Grassley bill would work.”
Meanwhile, Consumers Union called on the Senate to support the underlying bill to make it easier for consumers to find generic versions of brand-name prescription drugs. Janell Mayo Duncan, Legislative Counsel for Consumers Union, said the Schumer-McCain bill would streamline and improve the process for approving generic drugs.
“Whether or not senators can agree on a Medicare drug benefit, they still have the opportunity to do something very meaningful for people with huge prescription-drug bills,” said Duncan. “The Schumer-McCain bill would save consumers billions of dollars by enabling more generic drugs to reach the marketplace.”
Duncan said companies that try to bring generic drugs to market are faced with too many unnecessary obstacles. “The Schumer-McCain bill would prevent brand-name companies from manipulating the drug-patent-approval system in order to delay generics. It would clean up the system, boost competition, and ultimately deliver lower-priced drugs. According to a 2002 Brandeis study, older Americans could save $250 billion over the next ten years if generic drugs were more widely available. The Schumer-McCain bill would deliver the savings needed to lay the foundation for a comprehensive Medicare drug benefit.”
For more information contact: David Butler, (202) 462-6262