November 25, 2003 - Posted at 4:53 p.m. CDT
JONESBORO, AR - The Medicare system could be facing the most sweeping changes since it was created in 1965.
The U.S. Senate passed the Republican-backed Medicare bill this morning. Arkansas senators Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor were split on the vote. Pryor voted against the bill, and Lincoln voted in favor of it.
This Medicare bill includes a prescription drug benefit, and it calls for spending $400 billion over ten years.
That topic of discussion during lunchtime today at Jonesboro's St. Bernards Village centered around the Senate's approval of a much awaited Medicare bill. "Generally speaking it is a very good day," said resident Anne Sharp. For seniors like Sharp, it's a good day because for some of them, rising medical costs not only burns a whole in their pocket, but also their minds. "Many people will tell you that the $300, $400, $500 a month they pay for medicine...they have to have it."
Kevin Hodges is the Vice President for Senior Services at St. Bernards Healthcare. "Certainly we have seen experiences where it has been difficult for them to afford all the drugs, and prescriptions that they need to take," said Hodges.
But under provisions of the current Medicare bill some of those concerns are addressed. For example...
-Low income elderly people would get an annual subsidy of $600.
-Beginning in 2006, tax-free subsidies, perhaps worth as much as $70 billion would be provided to employers who maintain drug coverage for retirees.
-$25 billion would be spent to increase payments to rural hospitals and doctors.
-And, the bill would maintain a ban on importing prescription drugs.
It would, however, allow drugs from Canada...only if certified by the Health & Human Services Department.
"It's positive for us. Anytime we can help our seniors with prescription drugs and their expenses...it's very positive for us, as well," said Hodges.