Washington President Bush said Saturday that Congress must deliver on prescription drugs for Medicare, a promise made by Bush and congressional candidates across the country.
"Medicare is an essential program, but it has not kept pace with the advances in medicine," Bush said in his weekly radio address. "We need to do more to fulfill Medicare's promise."
It was the second day running that Bush pressed for changes in Medicare, the health insurance program serving 40 million elderly and disabled Americans.
Democrats and Republicans in Congress are working to shape a prescription drug plan. There are significant disagreements regarding how much to spend, how generous the benefit should be and how to structure the coverage.
At the same time, lobbyists for hospitals, doctors, health maintenance organizations and other health-care providers are fighting over limited dollars available for Medicare payments.
Unlike most private health plans, Medicare does not cover prescription drugs administered outside the hospital. The provision dates to 1965, when Medicare was created.
Some seniors buy private drug coverage and others sign up for health maintenance organizations and other managed care plans offered through Medicare that generally cover prescription drug costs. Still, nearly one in three Medicare beneficiaries has no drug coverage at all.
That has to change, Bush said Saturday.
"Seniors often pay the highest prices for drugs out of their own pockets, forcing too many of our seniors to choose between paying for pills or paying their bills," he said.
Bush made the same point during his run for president, as did scores of congressional candidates. Medicare drug coverage was the most popular topic in TV ads in 2000, and everyone was for it.
Democrats hold a solid advantage on the issue, but GOP strategists believe that passing a drug bill this year would blunt their arguments in fall campaigns.