Even though everyone’s back from the summer break, and even though both the Senate and the House have passed a version of the bill, it’s looking less and less likely to me that we’ll get a final Medicare prescription drug bill at all. The Democrats who agreed with Republicans in early July now see a President weakened by dropping public approval numbers, primarily about the economy, but also about the Iraq situation. So they’ve little incentive to allow Republicans to take credit for a domestic issue when most polls show that they are the party the people have most faith in on the home front. Added to that the middle to upper income retirees who forced the repeal of the last major reform, Medicare Catastrophic in 1989, are agitating again. Retirees with decent employer provided coverage are likely to see their employers drop it when Medicare provides it (and why wouldn’t they?). And the bill as currently written is OK if you use few drugs, OK if you have catastrophic Rx needs, but not much good if you are in the middle of the "donut". The NY Times has noticed that this is making many seniors very upset. As 2/3 of seniors have some drug coverage already, suggestions that it be replaced with something not as good will not make them happy–especially if it’s run by the government. (You may remember the famous quote from the senior in 1994 who told Senator John Breaux to "keep the government out of my Medicare"). Never forget that seniors vote in greater proportions than any other age group, and health care is their number one concern–oh and quite a few of them live in a place called Florida that seems to have had quite an impact in recent elections.
Meanwhile, if we don’t get Medicare Rx we will miss out on something in the House bill that would be a "good thing". Pushed heavily by ex-speaker Newt Gingrich, who told a Congressional committee in June that "the evidence that written prescriptions kill people is overwhelming", the House version makes electronic prescribing mandatory for the Medicare Rx program. The Senate version doesn’t. The AMA of course supports "the concept but not the mandate" (Yes, that’s the actual headline in the AMA news article!)
So if ePrescribing is on the verge of becoming a significant activity, albeit for a small minority of docs (as I described in a post last week), inclusion of a mandate for it in the Medicare bill would certainly push it over the top. But that of course depends on forces more powerful than those brought to bear by the e-Rx lobby, Newt or no Newt.
Jeanne Scott (of course!) has far more about the difference between the House and Senate Bills here, and informed comment on her odds of what’s going to come in her newsletter (sign up by asking Jeanne nicely here)