WASHINGTON — An amendment that would have required wealthier senior citizens to pay more for prescription drugs under Medicare was rejected Thursday in the Senate.
The vote was 58-39 against a proposal by Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., to add means-testing to Medicare Part D, the drug benefit created in 2003.
Under the amendment, premiums would have begun to increase for enrollees who have modified adjusted gross income of more than $85,000 and for couples with such income of more than $170,000.
Means-testing exists for Medicare Part B, which covers services by doctors and clinics, but Part D was formed without the cost-shift.
“What we are doing is just to say to seniors … if you have the means to pay for (prescriptions), then you should pay for them,” Ensign said during debate on a budget blueprint bill for fiscal year 2010.
Premiums vary by the type of prescription plan that enrollees choose. Under Ensign’s amendment, they would have grown by $11.31 a month up to $64 a month depending on beneficiary income.
The cost-shift would save taxpayers about $3 billion, Ensign contended.
“That used to be a lot of money around here,” Ensign said. “I realize that is small change now,” with the 2010 federal budget looking to be about $3.5 trillion.
Ensign argued that President Barack Obama also has proposed means-testing for Medicare prescription drugs in his budget.
There is a difference, though. Ensign wanted to apply the savings to reduce the federal deficit, while Obama proposed savings be reinvested into fixing the nation’s health care system.
Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., stressed that point in calling for the Ensign amendment to be defeated.
“This amendment sounds good on the surface, but frankly it is going to make health care reform more difficult,” said Baucus, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.
“The president does not want to use means-testing to reduce spending on health care,” Baucus said.
The vote fell largely along party lines, with most Republicans voting for it and most Democrats voting against it, including Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev.
Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at email@example.com or 202-783-1760.