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Senate candidates spar over prescription drug plans
By Mark Zdechlik
Minnesota Public Radio
October 9, 2002


Republican U.S. Senate candidate Norm Coleman is promoting a plan to reduce the cost of prescription drugs for seniors. Coleman sharply criticizes DFL Sen. Paul Wellstone for being unable to deliver such a plan. For his part, Wellstone accuses Coleman of supporting the pharmaceutical industry.

Norm Coleman
U.S. Sen. candidate Norm Coleman, a Republican, visited a retirement home in St. Paul to promote his proposal for prescription drug benefits.
(MPR Photo/Mark Zdechlik)

Coleman chose an upscale St. Paul retirement home to promote an alternative to the prescription drug plans offered by the Republican-controlled House and Democrat-controlled Senate. It's a so-called tripartisan plan backed by some Republicans, some Democrats and the only independent member of the Senate.

After a $250 deductible, the proposal would cover 50 percent of the cost of medication for seniors, up to nearly $3,500 a year. Seniors would then be responsible for 100 percent of drug costs, until their total out-of-pocket costs reach $3,700. After that threshold, they would pay 10 percent of the cost. The plan has no cap on out-of-pocket expenses.

In addition to the annual $250 deductible, seniors would pay a monthly premium of $24. Coleman says that's a good deal compared to what many seniors spend now.

"I would have supported that ... that plan would have given you something today. I've always learned in life -- you get something today and you make it a little better tomorrow," Coleman says.

The tripartisan plan would be administered by private health plans, and would cost the federal government an estimated $370 billion over 10 years.

Paul Wellstone
Incumbent DFL Sen. Paul Wellstone supports a Democratic plan in the Senate which he says keeps the federal government in control of the prescription drug plan.
(MPR file photo)

"When I'm in the United States Senate, there will be delivered very early on a prescription drug plan in Medicare to take care of the commitment that we have made to you, and I will make it happen," Coleman says.

The approach Wellstone favors is also supported by a majority in the Senate. It would cost nearly $600 billion over 10 years. Under that plan, seniors would pay no annual deductible, but would have a $25 monthly premimum. They would also be responsible for flat co-payments ranging from $10 to $60. The plan would cap out-of-pocket expenses at $4,000 per year.

Wellstone says the most important feature of the plan he backs is that the federal government would administer it, and could accordingly negotiate the price of medicine.

"The pharmaceutical companies don't want to have the prescription drug benefit to be a direct part of Medicare, and implemented through Medicare and the government," Wellstone says. "They want it done through managed care and private health insurance. They don't want anybody ultimately stepping in and negotiation prices and containing their costs."

Wellstone says the nation's pharmaceutical industry acts like a price-gouging cartel. And as Coleman criticizes Wellstone for failing to deliver, Wellstone accuses Coleman of promoting a drug package that is in the best interest of the pharmaceutical industry, not seniors.

"The pharmaceutical giants have contributed a lot of money to my opponent -- direct money going to him -- and I think it's sort of a question of who you represent," says Wellstone.

Senior citizens are much more likely to vote than any other sector of the population. In close races like the U.S. Senate contest between Coleman and Wellstone, seniors will play a critical role in determining who's victorious.

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