2007-04-18 / Seniors

Democrats' Bill To Negotiate Lower Drug Prices In Jeopardy

Democrats campaigned forcefully last year against the federal ban on negotiating lower prescription drug prices with pharmaceutical manufacturers, but the party's United States Senate members are on a different track on this issue than their House colleagues, putting the future of this legislation in doubt.

In January, House Democrats fulfilled their campaign pledge and enacted a bill which states that the Secretary of Health and Human Services "shall negotiate with pharmaceutical manufacturers the prices that may be charged" to Medicare drug plans.

But the bill introduced in the Senate by Democratic Senator Max Baucus of Montana would not require the HHS Secretary to negotiate the price of drugs. It merely permits him to negotiate to secure lower prices for Medicare beneficiaries.

The different Democratic bills pose a problem that could upset the Dems' campaign promise to force federal officials to negotiate the lower prices.

Democrats and Republicans in the Senate differ on Baucus' bill. Some Democrats supporting Baucus' measure say it's a first step in achieving the goal of lifting the present ban on negotiations. The supporters feel getting the 60 votes needed to pass the bill would be easier.

But a prominent Republican, Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine, backs the bill passed by Democrats in the House. Her bill, which has a Democratic co-sponsor, would outright force the HHS Secretary to negotiate prices for certain drugs, such as those sold by only one manufacturer who has no competition from other pharmaceutical companies.

The bills in the Senate are scheduled to be debated next week.

'HOME SHARING' MAKES HOUSING AVAILABLE: With affordable housing hard to come by, one source for it has come to our attention.

It's called "Home Sharing" and it's operated by the New York Foundation for Senior Citizens (NYFSC). It's a free matching service for older and young adults and for adults with special needs who want to be independent and have a sense of family at the same time. It also solves the problem many seniors and others face: rising rents and fuel costs that make it difficult for many to afford their own apartments.

On the other hand, "hosts" homeowners 60 years of age or over have extra private bedrooms in their homes or apartments to share with responsible compatible "guests". The program also matches hosts age 55 and over with developmentally disabled adults and adults with special needs who are still capable of independent living.

When a guest comes into a shared facility, he or she contributes toward the hosts' monthly household expenses and in some cases, provides household help or other services in exchange for reduced room rent payment. Benefits to both hosts and guests include easing financial burden, reducing feelings of isolation and loneliness and providing companionship and a sense of security.

Linda Hoffman, the NYFSC president, explains: "While many 'hosts' and 'guests' stay close to their families, they find that Home Sharing creates a new kind of family for them that is not the dictionary definition. The companionship and independence they gain from shared living are often as important as the financial relief they receive."

Under Home Sharing, professional social workers carefully screen applicants and conduct in-depth interviews to determine compatibility of potential hosts and guests and help to facilitate and implement matches, a Home Sharing spokesperson explained.

Prior to moving in, a license agreement is offered to help hosts and guests feel secure in their shared arrangements. Once the match is made, the social workers and other staff continue to provide follow-up services.

Home Sharing is funded by grants from state and city legislators, the state Office for the Aging, and the city Department For the Aging, the state Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities and private contributors.

Established in 1968, NYFSC operates in all five boroughs and claims to be the only non-profit, non-sectarian organization serving New York City's seniors. It is dedicated to helping seniors enjoy healthier, safer and more productive and dignified lives.

To learn more about the program, call 212- 962-7559 or e-mail agoldfield@nyfsclcop.org or visit www.nyfsc.org.

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