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Medicare discount drug card deal made

Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 10, 2003

WASHINGTON - Congressional negotiators voted Tuesday to establish a temporary discount drug card program for Medicare recipients, hoping to fill a gap in health care coverage until a comprehensive pharmaceutical benefit can take effect later in the decade.

Bush administration officials said seniors would get discounts of 15 percent and more on their drug bills under the program, which would begin in 2004 and run through the end of 2005. Additionally, lower income seniors would receive a federal subsidy of $600 annually.

The agreements on a discount card and a variety of other relatively noncontroversial items were the first important fruits of compromise talks by members of the House and Senate working on legislation to overhaul Medicare.

Retail pharmacies, insurers, pharmacy benefit managers and other private organizations would be eligible to seek the government's stamp of approval for their discount card under the program, and permitted to charge a $30 annual enrollment fee.

Spokesman Bill Pierce said the Health and Human Services Department estimates seniors would get a discount of 15 percent to 25 percent under the program.

Medicare beneficiaries could use their card at any participating pharmacy and get a discount negotiated in advance by the company that issued the card. Typically, these discounts would apply only to selected drugs, those making up the formulary maintained by the card-issuing firm. Officials said the legislation would not require that card company to pass on all of the discount it negotiates with drug manufacturers, or even a fixed percentage of it.

People with annual incomes of up to $12,123 would qualify for the $600 subsidy and would be eligible to carry over unused money from 2004 to 2005.

Dalai Lama asks Congress to support free Tibet

WASHINGTON - The Dalai Lama urged Congress to continue supporting the cause of a free Tibet, thanking House members in a Capitol Hill ceremony Tuesday for their push to improve China's treatment of Tibetans.

Addressing a crowd of dozens in the Capitol's Statuary Hall, the exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader asked lawmakers to "please continue to help us in whatever way . . . to end this serious violation."

The Dalai Lama, winner of the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize for his nonviolent struggle against Chinese rule of his homeland, is in Washington this week as part of a U.S. tour that began Saturday in San Francisco.

Elsewhere . . .

POST OFFICE TO PAY DOWN DEBT: The Postal Service expects to end this fiscal year $4.2-billion in the black, allowing it to pay down a substantial amount of debt, the agency said Tuesday.

Chief financial officer Richard Strasser said the financial plan is to reduce debt by $3.8-billion this year to $7.3-billion.

HACKER TURNS HIMSELF IN: Adrian Lamo, 22, a hacker who has acknowledged involvement in computer break-ins at the New York Times, Yahoo and other large corporations surrendered Tuesday on a federal arrest warrant related to alterations of the New York Times' databases.

TEXAS TRIES REDISTRICTING AGAIN: Republican Gov. Rick Perry on Tuesday called a third special session of the Legislature to redraw Texas' congressional districts after the Democrats thwarted two previous attempts by fleeing the state. Perry said the session would begin on Monday.

INDIANA GETS ACTING GOVERNOR: Indiana Lt. Gov. Joe Kernan assumed the duties of acting governor as Gov. Frank O'Bannon, 73, lay in critical condition Tuesday after suffering a stroke Monday.

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