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Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003-Conference Report

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. BIDEN. Mr. President, I voted against this bill today because I would never do anything that risks the future of Medicare, and I fear this bill takes the first steps toward the breakup of the traditional Medicare Program. In addition, this administration's misplaced priorities put enormous tax cuts first and left us little room to provide the comprehensive and fair drug benefit that seniors deserve. We should have done this right and provided a better drug benefit without jeopardizing the Medicare Program that has given seniors health security for 38 years.

My vote today was one of the more difficult decisions I have faced in my Senate career. For starters, let me note that not all of this bill is bad. Some people will get help with their drug costs. We in Delaware are fortunate to already benefit from unique programs that have long helped low-income seniors with their prescription drug costs, and this bill should build upon that foundation. It also offers some coverage to many middle class seniors and disabled citizens. All in all, these aspects of this bill are not enormously different from those in the Senate-passed bill that I voted for earlier this year.

This bill also includes sorely needed payment adjustments for hospitals, doctors, and other health care providers, which will ensure that Medicare patients get quality care and continued access to important medical services.

On the downside, however, this legislation still has a large gap in coverage-forced by budget constraints-in which the Government provides no subsidy for prescription drugs. I know that many people will find this gap confusing, disappointing, and burdensome. I am also very concerned that this bill does not sufficiently protect millions of retirees who currently receive good health care benefits from their former employers.

If we had done this the right way, we would have held back on some of the excessive tax cuts pushed through over the last three years and allocated more of our resources to meeting our obligation to provide a complete prescription drug benefit. Instead, the administration's misplaced priorities tied our hands.

If this legislation were just limited to the prescription drug benefit and the provider payment modifications, it would probably have my vote as being about as good as could be done under the current budget circumstances. But I have very serious concerns about other provisions tacked onto this bill that will take the Medicare Program and the health care benefits for 40 million Americans into uncharted and hazardous waters. This bill takes the first step toward monumental changes in the very foundation of how Medicare operates, beginning a push toward the breakup of the entire program.

The strength of the Medicare system has been its broad coverage, its simplicity, and the open choices patients enjoy. This bill sets in motion a new system that could tear down each of these advantages.

On balance I cannot support this legislation. To me, the negative features have such damaging potential that they overwhelm the benefits. Had the negotiations on this bill been done in the open, with the full participation of both parties, I think we could have crafted a better bill. I cannot vote for a bill that sets us on the path toward undermining the traditional Medicare Program that has worked so well for decades.

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