Prescription Drug Benefits

September 8, 2000

Talk in Congress and on the campaign trail these days is about prescription drugs. This has become one of the hottest issues in the 2000 campaign. But while members of Congress push for prescription drug benefits, it would be good to remember the history of this issue.

When Medicare was first created, Congress rejected the idea of providing benefits for outpatient prescription drugs. It wasn't until 33 years later that the issue was addressed when Congress amended the Medicare act to include precription drug benefits. President Reagan signed the bill into law. The next year is was repealed, and maybe we should go back and find out why.

The Medicare Catastrophic Coverage Act of 1988 began as a relatively modest Reagan Administration bill designed to cover catastrophic medical expenses. Soon it was expanded by liberals in Congress to include long-term care and outpatient prescription drug benefits.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated the drug benefit would cost $5.7 billion over five years. A year later they estimated that the amount would be more like $11.8 billion. Meanwhile, the Department of Health and Human Services warned that the problems of designing and implementing a new prescription drug benefit would be "immense."

Well, when seniors discovered how much the catastrophic coverage act would cost them in increased taxes and premiums, they rebelled and the act was repealed. The prescription drug benefit went away with it.

Now Congress wants to try again, but they would do well to learn from the history of providing prescription drug benefits. The costs could be substantial both in taxes and premiums. Politicians would do well to "count the costs" before they try to rush a bill through Congress that they might have to repeal after the elections.

I'm Kerby Anderson of Probe Ministries, and that's my opinion.