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House members back prescription drug plan

The bipartisan measure would give discounts of 38 to 50 percent to about 250,000 seniors who qualify.

By MICHAEL SANDLER, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 4, 2003

TALLAHASSEE -- House Republicans reached out to House Democrats on Monday, agreeing on a bipartisan plan to make prescription drugs more affordable to Florida seniors.

Flanked by a dozen representatives from both parties, House Speaker Johnnie Byrd, R-Plant City, proposed spending an additional $30-million on the initiative in an already tight budget year.

"The plan is a real testament to our commitment of putting people -- especially seniors -- before partisanship," Byrd said.

His plan embraced a similar version of the Lifesaver RX proposal introduced last month by House and Senate Democrats. Only it would give discounts of 38 to 50 percent to about 250,000 seniors who qualify for the program by earning 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

The original proposal offered only 30 percent discounts, but to nearly 2-million seniors at a state cost of approximately $24-million.

"This is not a final solution," said House Minority Leader Doug Wiles, D-St. Augustine. "But today is an important first step, and we celebrate the step."

Through a spokesman, Senate President Jim King, R-Jacksonville, said he favors the original plan, proposed last month by Sen. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston.

"He is glad to see the House has come up with a plan regarding prescription drug costs, and to see that they agree that something needs to be done," said Sarah Bascom, a King spokesman. "But he believes the plan by the Senate Democrats is closer to the way we need to go."

Wasserman Schultz was pleased to see the House Republicans acknowledge the need to go beyond Gov. Jeb Bush's existing Silver Saver Drug Program.

"But we really need to go a lot further than they are proposing," Wasserman Schultz said.

It's not clear whether Bush will support either one.

He has already included $6.5-million in his budget to continue his Silver Saver Plan. That began last summer and increased the maximum prescription benefit for people over 65 who are eligible for Medicare, from $80 per month up to $160 per month with a low co-payment. The plan covers about 60,000 people.

Alia Faraj, a spokesman for Bush, said the governor was pleased to see the two parties studying the issue carefully.

"Prescription drug relief is very important to the governor," Faraj said.

-- Michael Sandler can be reached at (850) 224-7023 or sandler@sptimes.com .

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