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Monday, January 24, 2005

Meeting Our Responsibility to the Future and the Past

Posted by Bob Brigham


Senate Democrats open the 109th Congress steadfastly committed to keeping the promise of America, the promise that all Americans who work hard can build a stronger and brighter future for their families. Keeping the promise of America means meeting our responsibilities both to future and past generations by providing our seniors what they have spent a lifetime work for; acting responsibly with taxpayer’s dollars and with our children’s future by restoring fiscal discipline; and enabling women to take responsibility for their health.


S. 18: Meeting Our Responsibility to Medicare Beneficiaries. Democrats will take the special interests out of the Medicare law by repealing the provision that prevents Medicare from negotiating better prices for seniors and eliminating the slush fund for HMOs. We will also improve the prescription drug benefit by phasing out the current doughnut hole where seniors pay a premium but get no benefit. We will buy down the Part B premium so premium increases are not too steep. We will address incentives that encourage employers to drop retiree benefits and we will ensure that no seniors are forced into HMOs while helping seniors in their transition to the new benefit.

The Medicare Prescription Drug Bill created a number of problems for our seniors. The Republicans used every chance they could get to help their special interest HMO and drug company friends. Democrats believe that seniors and people with disabilities should come first and this bill takes the first steps to improving the Medicare program to reflect those priorities. The Meeting Our Responsibility to Medicare Beneficiaries Act will lower the cost of prescription drugs and Medicare premiums, eliminate the HMO slush fund and protect the interests of our seniors.

Lower Drug Prices for Seniors. Democrats want to lower drug prices by eliminating the prohibition on allowing Medicare to use the power of its 41 million beneficiaries to negotiate lower drug prices. Medicare negotiation would mean lower drug prices, just like it does for the VA and other bulk purchasers.

Lower Part B Premiums For Seniors By Eliminating the HMO Slush Fund. The bill eliminates the $10 billion HMO slush fund Republicans put in the Medicare law. In addition, it stops the Bush Administration from assuring that HMOs are paid more than traditional Medicare by redistributing overpayments back to private plans. The bill requires HHS to adjust the payments in a way that saves that money for Medicare beneficiaries and uses the savings to reduce Medicare Part B premiums for seniors who are coping with the largest premium increase in history this year.

Protect Seniors From Gaps In Coverage. The drug benefit contains a huge gap in coverage during which seniors continue to pay premiums but get no drug coverage at all. This coverage gap only gets bigger over time – from $2,850 in 2006 to $5,066 in 2013. This bill would phase out the gap in coverage.

Protect Retirees From Losing Drug Coverage. The Republican drug bill will cause 3.8 million retirees to lose the good drug coverage they already have. This bill requires HHS to develop incentives for employers to maintain coverage and ensures that current incentives function properly.

Ensure Seniors Are Not Forced Into HMOs. In some communities, the Medicare drug bill could force seniors into HMOs because there may not be enough competing plans. This bill ensures that a1 guaranteed Medicare fallback is triggered whenever there are not two stand-alone drug plans available in an area so that seniors are not forced to join HMOs.

Eliminate Late Penalties. The new law creates considerable confusion and new sets of choices for seniors. Seniors will be forced to sign up for a plan without fully understanding what benefits are offered, whether the drugs they take are on the plan’s preferred list, or how much they will actually pay. This bill waives the late enrollment penalty for the first two years to give seniors time to understand the benefit and decide if they want to join, without subjecting them to a 12 percent per year late enrollment penalty. This provision makes the legislation truly voluntary.

Protect 6 Million Low-Income Beneficiaries During The Transition. The new law prohibits states from getting federal Medicaid matching funds for covering drugs for beneficiaries who are eligible for the new drug benefit from day one. This bill allows Medicaid to continue to cover drugs during the transition, protecting 6 million of our most vulnerable beneficiaries from falling through the cracks and having no coverage for the drugs they need.

S. 19: Fiscal Responsibility for a Sound Future. Democrats know that fiscal mismanagement today only leads to greater problems for our children. It is our responsibility to address the fiscal irresponsibility of the current Administration by imposing discipline today and Democrats are united to strengthen budgeting rules that require the government to live within its means.


The Fiscal Responsibility for a Sound Future Act helps to restore budget discipline and fiscal responsibility to our nation’s finances. Democrats know that fiscal mismanagement today only leads to greater problems for our children. It is our responsibility to address the fiscal irresponsibility of the current Administration by imposing discipline today. Democrats are united to strengthen budgeting rules that require the government to live within its means. This legislation would return us to a path of budget discipline.

Spend Within Our Means. This legislation would restore the Senate pay-as-you-go rule to require that mandatory spending and tax legislation be fully paid for, or be subject to a 60-vote point of order. Pay-go is one of the crucial budget enforcement tools that allowed the federal government to move from deficit to surplus in the 1990's. The Senate pay-go rule has been weakened in recent years, in order to allow for passage of large tax cuts. Since then, deficits and debt have skyrocketed. The Fiscal Responsibility For A Sound Future Act of 2005 would end the current practice of exempting all mandatory spending and tax cuts assumed in the budget resolution from the pay-as-you-go rule, and extend the Senate pay-go rule (currently set to expire in 2008) through fiscal year 2015.

Reinstate Mandatory Spending Cuts to Balance the Budget. The bill would also reinstate sequestration (across-the-board spending cuts) to enforce pay-go and discretionary spending limits. Legislation that exceeds fiscal year 2005 discretionary spending caps, as well as mandatory spending and tax legislation that would increase the deficit, would trigger sequesters. The bill also expresses the sense of the Senate that statutory discretionary spending limits should be enacted for 2006 to prevent passing more debt to our children.

Limit the Use of Reconciliation to Deficit Reduction Legislation. The bill prevents procedural gimmicks from being used to increase the deficit. The bill allows the Senate’s fast-track “reconciliation” procedures, which cut off debate after only 20 hours, to be used only for deficit reduction. Legislation that would increase the deficit could still be considered in the Senate, but could not be expedited. This would restore reconciliation to its original purpose of deficit reduction, and ensure that any legislation increasing deficits is subject to full scrutiny, debate, and consideration in the Senate. In addition, the legislation would prohibit the fast-tracking of Congressional budget resolutions that contain a reconciliation instruction that would worsen the deficit.

S. 20: Putting Prevention First. Democrats are committed to reducing unintended pregnancies by increasing access to family planning services and improving contraceptive coverage. We will increase funding for family planning and empower states to enable more women to take responsibility for their health. We will also improve contraceptive coverage by assuring equity in prescription drug insurance.


The United States has the highest rate of unintended pregnancies among all industrialized nations. Half of all pregnancies in the United States are unintended, and nearly half of those end in abortion. By increasing access to family planning services, our bill will improve women’s health, reduce the rate of unintended pregnancy and reduce the number of abortions – all while saving scarce public health dollars. The Democratic bill will increase access to family planning services, reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and reduce the number of abortions. It will also provide relief to Medicaid by decreasing the financial burden of pregnancy-related and newborn care. Specifically, our bill will:

Increase Access to Family Planning Services. This bill increases funding for the national family planning program (Title X) and will allow states to expand Medicaid family planning services to women with incomes up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

End Insurance Discrimination Against Women. The legislation ensures equity and fairness in contraception coverage by ensuring that private health plans offer the same level of coverage for contraception as they do for other prescription drugs and services.

Provide Compassionate Assistance for Rape Victims. Women who suffer sexual assault should not have to face the additional trauma of an unwanted pregnancy. Our bill ensures that women who survive sexual assault receive factually accurate information about emergency contraception (EC) and access to EC upon request.

Improve Awareness about Emergency Contraception. Approved by the FDA as a safe and effective means of contraception, EC could substantially reduce the staggering number of unintended pregnancies. Our bill provides $10 million to implement important public education initiatives about EC and its benefits and uses to women and medical providers.

Reduce Teen Pregnancy. The bill would provide $20 million in annual funding for competitive grants to public and private entities to establish or expand teen pregnancy prevention programs.

Truth in Contraception. Government-funded abstinence-only programs are precluded from discussing contraception except to talk about failure rates. A recently study found these programs distort public health data and misrepresent the effectiveness of contraception. Our bill ensures that information provided about the use of contraception as part of any federally funded program is medically accurate and includes information about the health benefits and failure rates of contraception.

Democrat's Promise

Posted at 11:28 AM in 2006 Elections, 2006 Elections - House, 2006 Elections - Senate, Activism | Technorati