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Congress fails the prescription drug test



Published: Mon, July 29, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Prescription drug prices continue to skyrocket, and many senior citizens and those without health insurance drug benefits continue to face such difficult choices as whether to pay the utilities or buy necessary medication. But the U.S. Senate doesn't show any signs of solving their dilemma anytime soon. By not passing legislation aimed at providing a prescription drug benefit to the nation's elderly, Democratic and Republican senators showed themselves incapable of acting in the best interests of their constituents.

Admittedly, trying to come up with the money to fund a prescription drug benefit isn't easy with the nation facing a considerable deficit and most states being forced to slash spending in the face of a worsening economy and the resultant loss of tax revenues.

Nonetheless, Congress cannot afford to put the issue off any longer. The only thing likely to change between now and whenever Congress finally does find a measure members can agree on is an increase in the number of older Americans whose health is threatened because of their inability to afford the life-saving medicines they need.

Negotiated prices

Other nations are able to keep drug prices down because national health services negotiate lower prices directly with pharmaceutical companies. Hence, drugs can be found in Canada at far lower prices than the identical product in the United States.

The Department of Veterans Affairs and U.S. armed forces have had similar programs for years. Congress should be looking for ways to adapt such cost-saving plans for Medicare patients as well.

This week, Senate Democrats are expected to introduce a bipartisan scaled-back Medicare drug benefit proposal that could help mostly low-income elderly or those who already have spent a significant amount of money on medicine.

It is unlikely to address all the concerns seniors have, but with the Senate just days away from its summer recess, it may be the best that can be hoped for.




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