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

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. PRYOR. Mr. President, I rise today to express my opposition to this bill, a Medicare prescription drug benefit in name only that has very few benefits for the seniors in my State. In June of this year, I voted for a bipartisan Senate bill which, while not perfect, was a good step toward providing our seniors with the prescription drug help they need.

Let us be clear. This legislation does nothing to lower the cost of prescription drugs. The Congressional Budget Office says this legislation will actually cause prescription drug prices to increase by 3.5 percent. Under this legislation, Arkansans will not be able to reimport cheap FDA-approved drugs from other industrialized countries, and this legislation expressly prohibits the Federal Government from negotiating with drug companies to bring down the high cost of prescription drugs.

This means that our seniors will continue to pay more for their prescription drugs than anybody else in the world. It means
they will continue to pay much more for their drugs than do our neighbors in Canada.

This means that a woman in America suffering from breast cancer will continue to be charged over $90 a month to take tamoxifen, while the same drug, made by the same company, can be bought in Canada for $22 for a month.

This means that people in my State will continue to pay: 37 percent more for cholesterol controlling Lipitor; 50 percent more for the anti-depressant Paxil, and 58 percent more for the arthritis drug Vioxx.

For the last decade drug spending has been driving up the cost of health care and placing affordable coverage out of reach for many Americans. We finally got our chance to help these seniors by lowering the cost of prescription drugs, but this bill wastes that opportunity.

It is bad enough our seniors are getting gouged by artificially high prices in the United States. I strongly believe we need to fix that. But now, with the passage of this bill, if indeed it passes, we are talking about taxpayers' dollars. Not only is it the right thing to fix it, it is our duty that we fix it.

Under this legislation, thousands of Arkansans will be worse off than when they started. According to the CBO, 2.7 million Americans are expected to lose their retiree health care benefits as a result of this legislation. That includes 19,000 Arkansas seniors. In addition, under this bill, 109,100 Arkansas Medicaid beneficiaries will receive worse coverage than what they get now and they will face considerable new restrictions on the drugs they can take.

Mr. President, 40,750 fewer seniors in Arkansas will qualify for low-income protections against the assets test and lower qualifying income levels. I, for one, do not believe that rural Americans living on a farm should be penalized because they own a tractor or other farm equipment. And 11,020 Medicare beneficiaries will pay more for Part B premiums because of income.

This bill also starts us down the treacherous path to dismantling Medicare as we know it. It takes $12 billion away from Medicare and gives it to private insurers and then forces Medicare to compete with heavily subsidized HMOs.

This allows private insurers to cherry-pick the healthiest and wealthiest people to their plans while leaving the poorest and the sickest in Medicare to pay more in premiums. People need to know that this bill was written to accommodate 400 corporate lobbyists, many of whom work for the pharmaceutical industry. It amazes me that we would seek permission from the pharmaceutical lobby before we would do the right thing for the people we represent. It amazes me even more that 400 lobbyists have more influence over Congress than the 40 million people who are currently enrolled in Medicare.

People need to know that the pharmaceutical industry is going to be handed a taxpayer-subsidized windfall with the passage of this bill. Analysts at Goldman Sachs project the new Medicare benefit could increase industry revenue by 9 percent or about $13 billion a year. And it is no coincidence that as details of this legislation began leaking out, pharmaceutical stock prices have risen steadily. In the last week alone, the value of Pfizer's stock increased by $19 billion.

I direct my colleagues to this bar graph behind me. The large bar represents Pfizer and the $19 billion they have increased in worth over the last week. Now look at the other bar, this little bitty bar, this small bar that you may have to squint and look closely to see because there isn't much there. This bar represents the entirety of the cost savings provisions related to generic drugs and reimportation. Seniors will save over the next 10 years $.06 billion. To reiterate, we have a $19 billion increase in the value of a company over 1 week, and a $.06 billion savings for seniors in the Medicare system over 10 years.

It is very easy to figure out who are the real winners and who are the real losers in this bill. Let me say in conclusion, there are some people in this body who believe we need this bill right now because the seniors have been waiting such a long time. They have. But from the seniors I have talked to personally when I was home in Little Rock over the weekend, to the hundreds who have called my office in the last week, they don't just want to get it done. They want us to get it done right. There is a big difference in just getting this bill done and getting it done right.

They want more than hollow promises that this legislation offers. My plea is simple: Let's get it right so that our seniors can finally have a real benefit. The bill we are voting on today will wind up doing more harm than good.

I yield the floor.

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