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House Passes Prescription Drug Coverage Plan

The Republican plan passed on a near party-line vote of 221 to 208 around 3 a.m. Friday after party leaders scrambled for a week to get full GOP support for the measure. Eight Republicans voted against the plan and eight Democrats voted for it.

How to offer seniors greater prescription drug coverage has been one of key political debates between Republicans and Democrats in recent years and could play a role in upcoming congressional elections.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) said the measure would help “all Americans cope with the rising cost of health care, especially senior citizens who shouldn’t have to choose between putting food on the table and paying for life-saving drugs.”

The Republicans’ $350 billion, ten-year plan would cost seniors $33 a month and has a $250 deductible. The government would then pay 80 percent of costs up to $1,000, and 50 percent up to $2,000. The government would pick up all expenses after $3,700.

The Democratic plan was estimated to cost between $800 billion and $1 trillion with a $25 monthly premium and $100 yearly deductible.

Democrats said the GOP proposal would still leave seniors with too many out-of-pocket costs.

“In the end, this Republican bill listens not to the people of this country,” Democratic leader Dick Gephardt of Missouri said. “It listens to the pharmaceutical companies and the insurance companies.”

Rep. Nancy Johnson (R-Conn.), the bill’s primary author, rejected the charge, saying the measure would particularly benefit women.

“Today’s vote is a great victory for seniors across the country, especially women,” Johnson said. “The drug benefit under my bill is voluntary and guarantees coverage to all seniors.”

Before the late-night vote, all 36 Democratic congresswomen argued against the bill, expressing frustration that their version of the legislation would not be brought up for a vote. The all-female group said prescription drug costs affect elderly women more than men and that the Democrats’ plan would provide better coverage.

The White House endorsed the Republican plan later in the day Friday and pushed for the parties to tone down bipartisan bickering to pass a bill.

“The president is encouraged by the House passage and he hopes what will happen now is that people will seize this moment to work together on behalf of the nation’s seniors and not blame each other or fingerpoint,” White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.

The Senate is expected to take up the issue in July, but its Democratic leadership has already assailed the Republican plan.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) called the House bill a “sham” and said Republicans are “so far to the right on this issue that it is a challenge to see how we can reconcile our differences.”