, 2000

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JUNE 29, 1999  5:23 PM
Senator Paul Wellstone
Jim Farrell or Andrew McDonald 202/224-8440
Wellstone Says President Clinton's Medicare Plan A Step in Right Direction, But `We Must Do Better'; Prescription Drug Scheme Inadequate for Americans Most in Need
WASHINGTON - June 29 - In response to President Clinton's long-awaited Medicare initiative announced today from the White House, Senator Paul Wellstone characterized the plan as "a modest step in the right direction." But based on the needs of many senior Minnesotans, he expressed concern that it may not be helpful enough for seniors and the disabled most burdened by the spiraling cost of prescription drugs. In light of yesterday's announcement of unprecedented budget surpluses far into the future, Wellstone said it was disappointing that the President proposed such a cautious prescription drug benefit that only partially addresses a problem which cries out for bold federal government action.

"I am concerned that the President's prescription drug plan for Medicare fails to provide the level of assistance that our most vulnerable seniors and disabled citizens desperately need. America's disabled and elderly struggle daily to meet the costs of the prescription drugs which they must have in order to enjoy a healthy quality of life. Medicare beneficiaries need a prescription drug benefit that will end the harsh reality of choosing between food and medication for millions of our country's sickest senior and disabled citizens, but the President's proposal may not do it," Wellstone said.

"A $1,000 per year prescription drug benefit won't go very far for the millions of seniors and disabled citizens of modest means, living on fixed incomes, who suffer from chronic illnesses that drain their income and savings. Pharmaceutical advances have made many of these illnesses manageable, but high cost and the lack of a good Medicare drug benefit will continue to put these advances out of reach. Many of our seniors spend $300 to $500 per month on their prescription drugs. We should get them a prescription drug benefit as generous as the one members of Congress enjoy," Wellstone said.

"Our nation's seniors and disabled citizens deserve affordable prescription drugs, but they may continue to wait in vain for them under President's Clinton's proposal. American consumers pay the highest prices in the world for the exact same drugs sold much more cheaply to federal agencies and in other countries. Where are the cost containment measures to rein in the powerful drug companies who have enjoyed record-breaking profits over the past few years? In my own state of Minnesota, seniors have had to travel to Canada to purchase prescription drugs because those same drugs are too expensive in our country. Where is the proposal to address the crushing cost of prescription drugs today?"

Wellstone asked. Wellstone did praise the President, however, for bringing the debate about a Medicare prescription benefit to the nation's attention, and for offering a proposal for Medicare prescription drug coverage that was universal in scope.

Wellstone said he would hold town-hall meetings throughout Minnesota during the upcoming July 4th recess to discuss the problem of high prescription drug costs. He has proposed several initiatives to address the problem.

"These are our parents and grandparents, our neighbors and friends we are talking about. Surely we can do better," Wellstone said.


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