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WASHINGTON (AP) – Older Americans would get pharmacy discount cards next year under a White House proposal aimed at providing quick relief from high prescription drug costs.

President Bush will announce the pharmacy discounts later this week, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Wednesday.

“The president is very troubled about the price of prescription drugs and the lack of access that senior citizens have to prescription drugs. … The president also thinks it’s very important, even before Medicare reform can be enacted, to help senior citizens to get the best price as possible,” Fleischer said.

The announcement will be one component of a broad outline of Medicare reform principles Bush plans to unveil late this week.

Bush proposed as a candidate to create a $158 billion plan to cover prescription drugs for the elderly poor and subsidize choice in drug plans for other Medicare beneficiaries.

The Washington Post, which first reported the pharmacy discount plan, said the administration is designing a national version of an approach adopted recently by some private insurers.

That plan relies on companies that manage drug benefits to buy prescription drugs in bulk.

The companies would sell cards to Medicare patients, who could use them at any pharmacy to purchase their medicine at a reduced rate.

The White House will move forward with the plan, believing it does not require congressional approval and could be implemented by the Department of Health and Human Services within several months, according to the White House official.

The discount card plan is the administration’s second attempt to cut drug expenses for the elderly. Bush first wanted to create a temporary block grant to help states subsidize drug costs for their elderly residents.

Congress rejected the plan.

The administration will promote the new plan as market-based. It falls short of the subsidized prescription drug benefit for all Medicare recipients favored by most Democrats.

Medicare HMO’s typically provide some drug benefits to their members. But about one-third of Medicare beneficiaries do not have any insurance to cover prescription drugs outside hospitals.

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