Prescription Drug and Medicare Improvement Act of 2003 - Continued

By:  Mitch McConnell
Date: June 25, 2003
Location: Washington, DC


    Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, I begin by complimenting the distinguished Senator from Oklahoma for his remarks and his very important contribution to this debate. He is one of the most knowledgeable members of our conference on this subject. I thank him for the fine work he has been doing on this important bill.

    Of course, Chairman GRASSLEY and the ranking member, Senator Baucus, have been doggedly pursuing this important legislation, not to mention our leader, the majority leader, the only physician in the Senate. He has had this as a top priority for the last 4 or 5 years, really for all of his term in the Senate. These individuals, along with Senator Kyl and Senator Lott, have made an important contribution in getting this legislation to the stage that we find it today.

    For almost 40 years, since Medicare was created, we have debated how to help our most frail citizens acquire the miraculous but expensive prescription drugs that they need. After all the talking for decades, today we are finally acting to provide to our seniors, the poor and the fragile of our society, the financial aid and means to acquire these wonder drugs.

    As we move deeper into this debate to provide Medicare assistance to those citizens most likely to need these miracle drugs but least able to afford them, some will ask, what took us so long? The question is really not rhetorical. The reason it has taken so long is the same reason why I suggest today that this Medicare debate has not been easy, nor do I believe it is preordained that a quality Medicare prescription drug and reform bill will pass this body.

    The reason we have difficult work to do is because there is a riddle to Medicare drug benefits. The riddle of Medicare drug benefits is this: How can Congress take the fastest growing Federal entitlement, with the largest long-term funding gap, and add an expensive but needed new benefit without overwhelming the fiscal solvency of the program or imposing a crushing payroll tax burden? Simply put, how can we add prescription drugs to Medicare today yet still preserve Medicare tomorrow?

    Yes, it is possible, and the President has solved the riddle of Medicare. To understand how, we can look to another riddle from ancient Greek mythology. Legend holds that the ancient city of Thebes suffered from a creature called a sphinx: part woman, part lion, and part bird. This creature would devour any who failed to solve the riddle of the sphinx.

    The riddle asked: What animal walks in the morning on four feet, in the afternoon on two feet, and in the evening on three feet? The answer is, of course, man, said the legendary Oedipus. In childhood, he creeps on his hands and knees; in manhood, he walks upright; and in old age, he walks with the aid of a cane.

    Oedipus first considered man in all stages of life, but only by considering the common cane did Oedipus find the answer. Thus, he solved the riddle, destroyed the sphinx, and ended his people's suffering.

    I suggest a similar approach to the riddle of Medicare. We must consider Medicare as it relates to our people in all stages of life—yes, as seniors, but also as working adults and as children. The key is to consider the common cane, the ageless symbol of age, the cane. When the Government buys this quad cane through Medicare, it pays $44 for this cane. When the Government buys the same cane through the Veterans Affairs Department, it pays $15. Let's run that by us one more time. Two different departments of the Government: Medicare buys the cane and pays $44. Veterans Affairs buys the cane and pays $15. The same cane, same Government, same patient but different Government program—$44 versus $15.

    Solve this and we solve the riddle of Medicare. Solve this and Medicare prescription drugs will not come at the expense of Medicare preservation.

    The General Accounting Office has documented how Medicare habitually overpays compared not just to what the private sector pays for medical goods but what other parts of the Government pay for medical goods. Medicare pays $12 for a catheter that most Federal Employees Health Benefits Plans pay only $1. Medicare pays $9 for an infection drainage bag while Blue Cross/Blue Shield typically pays $2.25. Yet overpaying is only part of the problem. Fraud and abuse costs Medicare as much as $12 billion per year. Over 10 years that would equal almost one-third of the $400 billion we dedicate to Medicare in this bill we are considering.

    Paperwork and redtape also waste Medicare dollars. With 110,000 pages of regulations, hospitals hire literally armies of clerks to handle everything but medical care. Some doctors are forced to spend as much time on Medicare patients' paperwork as they do caring for the Medicare patient.

    Medicare's regulatory burden is so great that the world-renowned Mayo Clinic requested not to be named Medicare Center for Excellence because the paperwork and redtape linked to such a distinction exceeded the benefit of any additional funds, as well as the honor itself.

    These are the aspects of Medicare that so many want to change yet so many seem to ignore.

    If we provide these drugs without fixing how we continuously overpay for this cane, we will fail to fix Medicare. Medicare prescription drugs for our parents will come as Medicare preservation for our children. There is an answer to the riddle. In a word, it is reform. That is what the President's plan is all about and the key to the work we began earlier this week: Provide prescription drugs for our parents and ensure preservation for our children.

    The President has sent us the right plan at the right price. It will strengthen and modernize the entire Medicare system.

    As we continue to work on this modified version of the President's plan we must keep in mind that while the President likes what we have done so far, he wants us to do more. That is a good goal for all. This is not a political game. This is for real. This is not about the next election; it is about the next generation. This is not just about prescription drugs; this is also about preservation.

    Yes, this is about our parents and grandparents, but this is also about our children and grandchildren. If we keep in mind all of our people and all that is at stake, I am confident we will produce a bill we can all be proud of and that the President can sign. That challenge continues today.

    I suggest the absence of a quorum.

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