Friday, February 23, 2001

Lucas pushes Rx drug benefits

Taxes, education also topics during visit

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        FALMOUTH — Geraldine “Gerry” Thomas enjoys her euchre games at the Falmouth senior citizens center, but some days she just isn't up to dealing the cards because of her arthritis.

        “I have a prescription, but it's $95 a month for 30 pills,” Mrs. Thomas said. “I have other drugs I need more that cost about $300 a month, medicine for diabetes and high blood pressure.

        “Some months I just don't get the arthritis pills because I can't afford them,” she said.

        U.S. Rep. Ken Lucas, a Boone County Democrat, told Mrs. Thomas and about 15 other seniors Thursday that Congress is working on a plan to subsidize some of their prescription costs.

        “We have this (budget) surplus; we've had this prosperity,” Mr. Lucas said at the senior center. “We ought to try to do something in Washington to help give you and seniors around the country a break on the costs of the drugs they have to buy every month.

        “I'm sure you all know someone who makes tough decisions, whether to buy food or their medicine, every month,” he said. “We need to do something about that.”

        Mr. Lucas, in his second term representing the 22-county 4th Congressional District, spent Thursday morning in Pendleton County. He talked with residents about prescription drugs, education and President George W. Bush's $1.6 trillion tax cut.

        He talked mainly of the prescription drug benefit, which would be provided under Medicare, the federal health insurance program for seniors.

        Last year, the House passed a prescription drug bill that relied heavily on private market solutions, and would have cost the government an estimated $155 billion in 10 years.

        The Medicare Rx 2000 Act passed the House 217-214 last year but never was taken up in the Senate. The plan relied heavily on private insurers to provide prescription drug coverage to Medicare beneficiaries, who would share in the costs.

        Mr. Lucas said he voted against that bill because it only covered people who made less than $12,600.

        President Bush has unveiled a drug benefit plan that would provide full coverage to seniors with incomes of up to $11,300 and couples with incomes up to $15,200. Partial coverage would be available for individuals with income up to $14,600 and couples up to $19,700.

        Mr. Lucas said he has not decided if he will support Mr. Bush's plan; but he added he is troubled by the income thresholds, which he said should be higher.

        Mr. Lucas mingled with residents throughout Pendleton County. At the county's high school, Principal John White told Mr. Lucas there are certain aspects of Mr. Bush's education plan, which Congress must ultimately vote on, that he supports.

        For instance, Mr. Bush has said there needs to be more accountability in schools, including annual testing of elementary students.

        “I do agree that we need to shift some accountability to the students,” Mr. White said. “Teachers are ultimately responsible for what happens in the classroom, but I think we need to show kids that we want them to be accountable for their actions and their own learning.”

        The federal government should also find a way to help increase teachers' salaries, Mr. White said. A starting teacher in the Pendleton County Schools earns about $25,000 a year.


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