Congressmen Reserve Best
Drug Plan for Themselves
drug plan for seniors that awaits final legislative deliberation
in Washington guarantees that federal employees and members
of Congress will have better benefits than those available
to the rest of the population.
In the Medicare prescription drug plan passed by the House
of Representatives earlier this year, the drug benefit for
federal retirees cannot be reduced to the level proposed in
the new legislation. In other words, the plan Congress is
considering for taxpayers is one they do not want for themselves.
According to the Congressional Research Service, the drug
benefits obtained through the Federal Employees Health Benefits
Program are worth about 50 percent more than the proposed
Medicare drug benefits to be made available to everyone else.
Conrad F. Meyer, managing editor of Health Care News, reports
that the bill exempting federal employees from the reduced
benefits plan was introduced by Rep. Tom Davis, R-VA, and
Sen. Daniel K. Akaka, D-HI. Akaka said federal employees (including
members of Congress, judges, etc.) "should not face a
situation in which they must rely on Medicare."
About 8.5 million federal workers, retirees and relatives
are covered by the federal employee health plan, Meyer said.
"Unless some major revisions are made to the House and
Senate Medicare plans, the Congressional Budget Office estimates
that one-third of retired, private-sector employees with employer-sponsored
drug coverage could lose their benefit coverage as a result
of Medicare reform. As it stands, Medicare reform will offer
private and public employees a powerful incentive to reduce
or drop drug benefits for their employees," said Meyer.
The current federal employee plan covers 80 percent of total
drug costs, compared with about 49 percent in the Senate Medicare
plan, and 55 percent under the House Medicare version, according
to Kenneth E. Thorpe, chairman of the health policy department
at Emory University.
There are other differences between the federal employee benefit
program and the proposed Medicare plans. Federal employees
do not have to pay an additional premium or deductible for
drug coverage, but the under the Medicare plans in Congress,
individuals would make annual payments of $420 and face deductibles
of at least $250.
Current Medicare reform plans would require patients to pay
all drug costs up to $4,500 or $5,800 a year in the Senate
version, or from $2,000 to $4,900 in the House version.
The drug benefits would be administered by a new agency called
the Center for Medicare Choice that divides the nation into
10 or more geographical regions similar to those advocated
by the Clinton administration in its Health Security Act of
1994, produced by Hillary Clinton's health care task force.