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Prescription Drug and Medicare Improvement Act of 2003 - Resumed

Location: Washington, DC



    Mr. CHAMBLISS. Mr. President, I thank the Senator from Nevada and my friend Senator Reed for being gracious enough to let me speak on this bill.

    All of us who have served in this body over the past several years, whether it is during our campaigns, going back home for town halls, or visiting home over the weekends, have talked about the need for a prescription drug benefit within Medicare. We all agree on that. I am very pleased that this week, as well as all of next week, we will be debating this issue regarding the inclusion of a prescription drug benefit within Medicare and the overall improvement of Medicare.

    I am also very pleased that the particular bill that came out of the committee has certain options available for seniors in it. The one thing we tend to do from a legislative perspective is to put mandates and dictates on people, particularly when dealing with health care. This particular bill does not do that. There are significant options in this bill that Medicare beneficiaries are going to have with respect to a prescription drug benefit. I think having these options in place is going to put competition in place within Medicare and allow the marketplace to work.

    There are senior citizens today that we all refer to, and now I would like to concentrate on. I am talking about those low-income senior citizens who have high drug costs that need to be taken care of. While I remain positive that we are developing a bill—and there are a lot of positive things within this bill—I am very concerned that we are reaching beyond what most of us in this body have talked about over the last several years with respect to a prescription drug benefit; We are going way above and beyond providing that benefit just for those low-income, high-monthly-drug-cost individuals who so desperately need this benefit.

    The reason I am so concerned is that from a fiscally responsible standpoint, it is incumbent on us, as Members of this body and as members of the House, that we do not overreach and put a burden on the young people in this country. I don't want them coming back to us one day and saying, "What in the world did you folks do to us in 2003 by imposing such a heavy financial burden on Medicare? Because of this prescription drug benefit, Medicare cannot remain solvent without increasing payments going into Medicare."

    I have strong concerns that we are overreaching with this bill. That is why I am so pleased the Senator from Nebraska, the Presiding Officer today, and the Senator from Nevada, Senator Ensign, who have studied this issue and have developed a substitute which may be offered as an amendment. I look forward to having a healthy debate working with their language in addition to the base bill coming out of committee. It is my sincere hope that we can find the right answers, and at the same time, continue to serve and provide a benefit to those people who so desperately need it.

    There is another issue that I want to make sure we are very deliberate about and that we cover, and that is the issue regarding the ability of our pharmacists, particularly in rural areas, to participate in this program. We cannot afford to have a one-size-fits-all benefit that allows individuals to go straight to the manufacturing source for their benefits under this plan. These pharmacists, particularly in rural areas, deal with individual patients and customers on a daily basis. They provide a service that not only benefits the patient and the customer but benefits Medicare. Pharmacists give advice and counsel regarding the drugs that have been prescribed for them, and I think without question will save millions of dollars in future years in this program within Medicare.

    Lastly, I could not stand up and talk about a prescription drug benefit without recognizing that our drug companies over the years—and I happened to be sitting in the chair yesterday when Senator Dorgan was talking about this, and Senator Dorgan is exactly right—have stepped up to serve seniors by providing significant amounts of drugs to low-income individuals who simply could not afford to buy those drugs. These companies offer monetary discounts on large quantities of drugs to seniors involved in their plans. One of those companies, Pfizer, happened to be in my office today reiterated exactly what they have done. This is a very positive thing we should all remember when we are talking about our drug companies.

    As we move forward with this bill for the next 2 weeks, I remain very cautious about where we are going to be at the end of the day. We do have to make sure that we have a healthy debate in light of the fact that we do have to provide a prescription drug benefit. We know a bill is going to pass, but we certainly need to send the right bill into conference with the House, so that when it comes out of conference it benefits those folks who need it most, those low-income individuals with enormous monthly drug bills. We should be able to look these young pages in the eye and say we did not saddle them with a burden that will be unaffordable years from now.

    So I thank the Senator from Nevada for letting me interrupt and the Senator from Rhode Island for letting me come in and give my speech now. I look forward to the debate over the next 10 days as we conclude this at the end of next week.

    I yield the floor.

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