Senate kills Ensign amendment on seniors drug pricing

WASHINGTON — Sen. John Ensign this morning tried to revive a plan that would require wealthier senior citizens to pay more for medications they obtain through Medicare.

No dice for him, as an amendment the Nevada Republican tried to place into this year’s federal budget blueprint was killed in the Senate, 39-58.

The proposal to apply means-testing to Medicare Part D has been in Ensign’s back pocket since Congress created the prescription drug benefit back in 2003.

It came to a vote once before, in 2007, and it was defeated 52-44.

Under the latest amendment premiums would have begun to increase for enrollees who have modified adjusted gross income of more than $85,000, and for couples of more than $170,000.

There is means-testing for Medicare Part B, that covers services by doctors and clinics, but Part D was formed without the cost-share.

"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.

The cost-shift would save taxpayers about $3 billion, he 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 come in at about $3.5 trillion.

Ensign argued means-testing deserved a closer look this year since President Barack Obama has proposed essentially the same thing in his budget.

There is a difference, though. Ensign wanted to apply the savings to reduce the federal deficit, while Obama is proposing that the 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 this morning fell largely along party lines, with most Republicans voting for it and most Democrats voting against it, including Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev.

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