MEDICARE CATASTROPHIC CARE HOUSE/SENATE CONFERENCE CMTE. CHAIRMAN ROSTENKOWSKI PREFERS SENATE PHASE-IN; CONFERENCE COULD PRODUCE BILL BY LATE APRIL
House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Rostenkowski (D-Ill.), who is chairing the House/Senate conference on catastrophic care legislation, favors the Senate bill's proposal to phase in drug coverage under Medicare. At a March 16 press briefing, Rostenkowski said a gradual implementation of Medicare drug coverage "is a hell of a lot more attractive to me than the one-time big hit." Caution with regard to costs is needed, he added, "to protect the bill so that it's going to be signed" by President Reagan. The proposed drug benefit "is expensive," Rostenkowski said. "Nobody really knows what the price is going to be, and that always frightens me. We don't have a long-rante analysis of where we will be with prescription drugs." The House hopes the bill can be reported by the conference committee by the end of April before Rules Committee Chairman Pepper (D-Fla.) brings long-term care legislation to the House floor. Rostenkowski said conferees "are looking at getting the bill done, sending it to the staff over the Easter break [April 1-10], and possibly voting on the conference report." Rostenkowski believes that the Pepper bill could threaten passage of the catastrophic care bill if it precedes catastrophic care to the House floor because members would not want to vote for two large increases to Medicare benefits in the same year. "I don't think the [Pepper] bill will become law because I don't think the President can afford to sign it," Rostenkowski remarked, estimating the bill's costs at $30 bil. Conferees held their first meeting March 16 and indicated they would keep to their tentative schedule. In an opening statement, Rep. Stark (D-Calif.) said he expected President Reagan would sign the bill before Memorial Day. Rostenkowski announced that the House conferees would offer a proposal regarding minor technical issues. The proposal was drafted by House and Senate staff, and should meet with quick agreement by the Senate conferees. In a letter to fellow conferees, Stark criticized the grass roots letter solicitation by the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association. Calling the campaign, "sleazy," Stark questioned the validity of the group sending one of the letters, the Physicians Committee on Quality Health Care. In a response, PMA said its recent activities in support of the Senate measure included funding of "a mailing by the president of the Physicians Committee on Quality Health Care to about 12,000 constituents of the conference committee members, urging them to write their congressional representatives to support the Senate version." PMA noted that the letter was signed by Francis Davis, MD, president of the Physicians Committee and chairman and president of Private Practice magazine.
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