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WASHINGTON (AP) – Drug store owners have filed a lawsuit to keep the Bush administration from promoting prescription discount cards in the Medicare program, pharmacy trade groups said Wednesday.

The stores say the Bush plan is “clandestine and unlawful” and would force them to bear the burden of trimming the cost of medicines for the elderly insured by Medicare.

As soon as this fall, Medicare would endorse and promote several privately administered prescription drug discount cards, like those currently offered by pharmaceutical and other companies, Bush said last week.

The cards would be free or cost at most $25, and save Medicare recipients 25 percent in typical pharmacy purchases, or as much as 50 percent for mail-order drugs, White House officials said, adding that the administration could begin the program without congressional approval.

The drug stores and some consumer advocates immediately criticized the plan, saying Medicare would not subsidize the cost of medicines, nor negotiate prices with drug makers. Private card managers have said that they could help Medicare seniors get good deals on their medicines.

“This plan provides false hopes to our seniors when they walk into their neighborhood pharmacy, said Craig Fuller, president of National Association of Chain Drug Stores, one of the groups that filed suit in U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia.

“The possibility exists that there are no real discounts on the drugs that their doctors prescribe,” he said.

Soaring drug costs have both caused and complicated Congress’ bid to add a benefit for medicines to the 36-year-old health program for the aged and elderly.

A top Senate Democrat outlined lawmakers’ plans Tuesday and expressed concerns about the Bush approach.

“I don’t see that as being competitive with what we’re doing,” said Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla.,

The bill, which is supported by at least one Republican, Sen. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, would give all seniors uncapped prescription drug benefits after a set deductible is met. To ensure everyone can afford the program, the poorest Medicare recipients would get the most help from the government, while other seniors would get assistance based on their income, said Graham, who outlined the Democrats’ plans Tuesday.

Private companies like health insurers or pharmacy benefit managers would run the prescription drug benefit, ensuring competition, Graham told reporters. Part of their management fees would be based on their performance to ensure quality service, he said.


National Association of Chain Drug Stores:

National Community Pharmacists Association:

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