President Barack Obama on Monday praised a decision by drugmakers to help seniors buy additional drug coverage under Medicare.But the president clearly had more than the drugmakers in mind, using the moment to warmly praise the two Senate Democrats leading the effort to write health care reform bills both of whom stood next to Obama at the White House event. The president said Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) who has been struggling to get his bill out of committee has been doing an outstanding job leading the Finance Committee on this issue.And he praised Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) for being an outstanding leader on a whole host of health care issues throughout his career and helping to lead the [Health, Education, Labor and Pensions] Committee while Sen. [Edward] Kennedy is undergoing his treatment for his illness. Kennedy (D-Mass.) is battling brain cancer.Obama has consistently offered public praise for Dodd who faces a difficult re-election fight on the health bill and for his work on strengthening oversight of the financial services sector.And the president revived his famous campaign slogan in predicting a health reform bill will be passed this year. Yes we can we are going to get this done, he said.The agreement with the drugmakers, meanwhile, would help fill the doughnut hole, a gap in coverage provided by many health plans that participate in Medicare.This gap in coverage has been placing a crushing burden on many older Americans, Obama said during remarks at the White House. As part of the health care reform I expect Congress to enact this year, Medicare beneficiaries whose spending falls within this gap will now receive a discount on prescription drugs of at least 50 percent from the negotiated price their plan pays.Under the arrangement, drugmakers would spend up to $80 billion to help seniors buy drugs.But while the spending by the drugmakers will certainly assist some seniors, it is unclear how it would directly benefit the health reform effort by defraying the cost of providing a new government insurance option. The new spending will aid those who already have insurance namely, Medicare.Obama suggested it would help to have the industry reduce its draw on the health system by $80 billion. Presumably, the drug company funding could be used to justify further Medicare cost cutting in other benefits for seniors as part of a health reform pay-for. But nobody specifically suggested cuts to balance out the new spending by the companies.Otherwise, it appears the spending will simply be lumped in under the general banner of health reform.A White House official did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.