Press Release

January 5, 2007
Cardin's First Senate Bill Seeks to Help Millions of American Seniors

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Just hours after being officially sworn in as Maryland’s 62nd U.S. Senator, Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) introduced legislation to fix the flawed Medicare Part D program, which has left millions of Americans without adequate prescription drug coverage. Sen. Cardin was a national leader on health care in the House of Representatives and looks forward to bringing his expertise and experience to the U.S. Senate.

“On my first day in the U.S. Senate, I am taking action to help the millions of American seniors who are struggling to make ends meet,” said Sen. Cardin. “Too many seniors cannot afford their prescription drugs, but the Medicare prescription drug plan benefits the pharmaceutical companies more than our seniors. We need to improve access to health care in America, and we can start by fixing the broken Medicare Part D program. I will be reaching out to Senators from both sides of the aisle because I believe we must work together to give seniors the real prescription drug benefit they deserve.”

Sen. Cardin’s bill, The Preserving Medicare for All Act of 2007 , will allow the federal government to negotiate the price of prescription drugs under Medicare, which will bring down the cost for millions of seniors. The Senator’s bill also will require Medicare Part D to cover benzodiazepines, an entire class of anti-anxiety drugs that are now excluded.

As a Member of the House, then-Rep. Cardin opposed the law creating Part D, calling it a “raw deal for seniors.” Following are provisions of Sen. Cardin’s bill:

Lowering Prescription Drug Costs

Current Medicare Part D Program: Specifically prohibits the government from negotiating for the best price possible for prescription drugs, allowing prescription drug companies to charge U.S. consumers and taxpayers two to three times the fair price for prescription drugs.

Sen. Cardin’s Plan: Authorizes the Secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate lower prescription drug prices for American seniors. This provision allows the government to benefit from the free market bargaining power of 40 million Medicare beneficiaries and pay far less for prescription drugs.

Providing a Guaranteed, Universally Available Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit Option

Current Medicare Part D Program: There is no guaranteed prescription drug benefit for America’s seniors. Under this flawed plan, private insurance companies can design the drug plans they offer, including the the monthly premiums, copay levels, participating pharmacies, and the drugs that are covered. The 2003 law also allows insurers to change their lists of drugs at any time, even though seniors can only change plans once a year.

Sen. Cardin’s Plan: Guarantees that all seniors will be able to choose – in addition to the options offered by the Republican plan – a universally available, defined prescription drug benefit plan administered through Medicare. This provision will provide seniors with the option of a plan with a set premium, deductible, and copay levels that will be established by law, not by private insurance companies.

Encouraging Employers to Continue Providing Coverage for Retirees

Current Medicare Part D Program: Will likely lead to employers dropping their prescription drug plans for retirees because it does not fully reimburse employers for the drugs they currently cover and it fails to count employer contributions towards seniors’ out-of-pocket cost limitations.

Sen. Cardin’s Plan: Fully reimburses employers for the cost of retiree drug coverage that would have been covered by Medicare and permits benefits provided by employers to count towards seniors’ out-of-pocket cost limitations. This will give employers an incentive to continue providing retired employees with prescription drug coverage.

Eliminating Overpayments to Private Health Plans

Current Medicare Part D Program: Offers $12 billion to private health insurers who previously dropped their Medicare plans to resume their participation in Medicare. Evidence has shown that private plans already receive more than 120 percent in fee-for-service costs.

Sen. Cardin’s Plan: Eliminates these overpayments to private health insurers and uses the funds to strengthen the traditional Medicare program for seniors.

Covering Important Anti-Anxiety Drugs

Current Medicare Part D Program: Completely excludes coverage for an important class of medicines called benzodiazepines, which include frequently used drugs such as Xanax, Ativan and Valium. These drugs are used for a variety of disorders, including severe anxiety, panic attacks, seizures, skeletal muscle disorders and insomnia.

Sen. Cardin’s Plan: Requires Medicare Part D to cover benzodiazepines, including Xanax, Avitan and Valium. The Secretary of Health and Human Services would review all prescribing protocols to ensure safety.