NATIONAL DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION ACT FOR FISCAL YEAR 2007
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Ms. STABENOW. Madam President, I rise to speak in support of the Lautenberg-Stabenow amendment. I understand Senator Levin has offered it and Senator Lautenberg will be coming shortly to speak on our amendment.
This is an incredibly important amendment for the men and women who are currently serving us so bravely, courageously around the world. We all know that prescription drug costs are one of the largest drivers of health care costs, rising every year at double or even triple the rate of inflation. This is certainly an area where I have been focused for much of my Senate career--on the high cost of prescription drugs. We all know that is the case.
Like every manufacturer, small business, and State Medicaid Program, the military is facing the same challenges of controlling prescription drug prices. Instead of supporting policies that would lower prescription drug prices, such as reimportation of prescription drugs from other countries like Canada, which is very close to Michigan, or focusing on more generic, lower cost drugs that can be brought to the market and create competition to bring down prices, or allowing Medicare to negotiate pricing, unfortunately, this administration wants to put the costs on the backs of our men and women in uniform and their families. I strongly oppose that policy.
The President's budget proposed increasing the prescription drug copays for our troops and their families, almost doubling copays for both generic and brand-name drugs.
The proposed pharmacy copay increases represent a 70-percent increase for military beneficiaries over the next 5 years--far in excess of the 24-percent increase in military pay, or the 14-percent increase in retiree pay over the same period. These increased copays will affect Active-Duty members of the Armed Forces and their families, members of the Guard and Reserve and their families, and retired members of the Armed Forces and their families, as well as surviving spouses who are enrolled in TRICARE and get their prescription drugs from retail pharmacies.
Unfortunately, the Senate Defense authorization bill only rejects the increases if people use mail order pharmacies for their prescriptions. While mail order may work for some, many military families cannot wait 2 weeks or more to get the medicine they need right now. The vast majority of our military families purchase their drugs at pharmacies. Of all TRICARE prescriptions filled, about 43 percent are through retail, going to local pharmacists, 51 percent are through military pharmacies, and only 6 percent are through mail order.
Unfortunately, in Michigan, there are no military pharmacies for the 64,000 military men and women and their families who call Michigan home. So this will impact the families in Michigan who are serving us abroad--the troops as well as their families.
Are we going to tell an Active-Duty mother to wait 2 weeks to get the antibiotics that her children need? Are we going to say to our troops that their family should have to pay more for prescriptions while they are serving and protecting us in Iraq?
The Lautenberg-Stabenow amendment makes sense. It would temporarily freeze retail copays at their current rate through the end of next year. I understand there has been a request from the chairman of the Committee on Armed Services to change that to the end of the fiscal year. I don't object to that. The amendment is consistent with the committee's findings that military beneficiaries should be held harmless from TRICARE fee increases until Congress is satisfied that the Defense Department has done all it can to constrain health care costs, without shifting the costs to our military families.
Clearly, Madam President, we have not done all we can to cut health care costs, and we ought not to be shifting this burden to our military families. If we don't pass this important amendment, our soldiers and their families will be asked to pay an additional $200 million next year for their medicine.
I was fortunate enough to spend Memorial Day with our troops in Iraq and saw firsthand, as so many of my colleagues have, their dedication and courage under incredibly difficult circumstances. We have an obligation to support these men and women, and that means not raising their prescription drug copays while they are fighting to protect us.
I hope the Senate will unanimously support this effort that would stop the doubling of copays for our military families for their medicine. I am hopeful that we will be able to do that as soon as possible.
I yield the floor.