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Plan for Senior Prescription Drugs Set

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WASHINGTON, Oct 21, 2003 (United Press International via COMTEX) -- House and Senate negotiators have reached a tentative agreement guaranteeing the availability of Medicare prescription drug benefits in any market.

Under the plan, Medicare would offer drug benefits through a federal backup plan if fewer than two private insurers offered free-standing policies to cover drugs for the elderly and the disabled, the negotiators told the New York Times.

The White House wanted drug benefits to be provided by private insurers, with a minimum of government control, but many doubted insurers would sell "drug-only" coverage.

The Bush administration feared if government directly provided drug benefits to the elderly, it would discourage private insurers because "a government-run delivery system for prescription drugs ... could lead to government pricing of individual drugs."

However, Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, and moderates like Sen. Olympia J. Snowe, R-Maine, had insisted on a government backup plan.

"There is no way to guarantee that private companies will deliver services in every region of the country, especially in rural areas like Maine," Snowe said.

Copyright 2003 by United Press International.

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