Considered a dead issue just weeks ago, a prescription drug benefit in Medicare is suddenly thought to be the health care issue with the best chance for passage this year. Just how far it has come was evident when the Senate passed a fiscal 2001 budget resolution that earmarks $20 billion to finance prescription coverage over the next three years.
The Democrats have made Medicare drug coverage nothing less than a central part of their strategy to hang on to the White House, with proposals ranging from a direct benefit to all, to one offered only to low-income Medicare beneficiaries.
The House Republican leadership, perhaps mindful of presumptive presidential nominee George W. Bush's stated approval of a prescription benefit, favors a market-based program: Private insurers would offer drug-benefit packages to beneficiaries without existing coverage, thus using their buying power to prevent people from having to pay full retail price. The government would subsidize coverage for sicker and low-income beneficiaries.