WYDEN TOUTS NEED FOR DRUG PLAN

February 20, 2002 12:00 am
SPEAKING IN LA GRANDE: U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., touched on numerous topics including Medicare, Alaska oil drilling, Klamath Basin and Amtrak during his visit to the Union County Senior Center Tuesday. (The Observer/PHIL BULLOCK).
SPEAKING IN LA GRANDE: U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., touched on numerous topics including Medicare, Alaska oil drilling, Klamath Basin and Amtrak during his visit to the Union County Senior Center Tuesday. (The Observer/PHIL BULLOCK).

By Ray Linker

Observer Staff Writer

Older Americans should be provided prescription drugs based on their individual capability of paying for them, U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden said in La Grande Tuesday.

Speaking at the Union County Senior Center before about 175 residents, mostly senior citizens, the Oregon Democrat said it will be tough to get this (bill) funded, but we must do it. There must be a prescription drug bill based on an ability-to-pay approach. Americans cannot afford not to cover prescription drugs for older people.

One example of how the system is flawed, he said, was that a person could get his drugs paid for under Part A of the Medicare plan if he or she were admitted to a hospital for a week at a probable cost of $50,000.

If the system would permit those same drugs to be paid for under Part B of the plan for outpatient care, the same person could get the drugs for about $500.

This is a crazy way to run a health care program, said the senator, who is on a round of town hall meetings during the Presidents Day congressional recess.

Even if a reform measure gets through Congress, Wyden said, because of the expense of funding it, it would have to be phased in over a number of years.

Wyden said he would like to see a lot of public discussion on the issue as it is one of his priorities.

He abhors the Republican administrations effort to essentially scuttle the Oregon assisted suicide bill by making administrative rules that would punish doctors if they used certain pain-killing drugs on their patients.

Oregon voters have passed the assisted suicide bill twice and Oregon is now suing over the issue. If Oregon wins, the same old crew will go back to Congress to try to stop it again. If they do, I will once again go back to the floor (and filibuster) and we will not have any other business. What part of no are these people not getting.

That drew applause from the audience, which also asked several questions about national security in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Wyden, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said there will be a top-to-bottom review by the government to reduce the prospects of future terrorism. Were moving to ensure that the proper safety precautions are taken.

The most important lesson weve learned is that terrorists can set up anywhere New Jersey, Florida, California.

While there are people with specific agendas, poverty and hunger can breed terrorism, he said.

But the people who were involved in the Sept. 11 murders, the killing of innocent people, cannot cite hunger as a reason for the attacks.

While there are some security discussions that must be held behind closed doors, Wyden said hed like to see some Intelligence Committee work done in public. A public review is long overdue. We shouldnt just throw money in every direction.

He said the nation must strike a balance between adopting security measures and providing for civil liberties.

A number of issues were touched on during the 1-hour meeting, including promoting wind as an energy source, protecting the Alaskan wildlife reserve from oil drilling, making sure workers dont face any retirement situations similar to Enron employees, getting a Farm Bill passed in the House to ensure water for farmers as well as for fish in the Klamath Basin and continuing efforts to get Amtrak service restored in Eastern Oregon.

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