Candidates Spar Over Drug Program

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The new Medicare drug program provided
ammunition Monday for sparring gubernatorial candidates Rep. Jim
Gibbons, R-Nev., and Henderson mayor Jim Gibson, a Democrat.
In a series of recent appearances, Gibbons has been a booster of
the Bush administration-backed prescription drug benefit, which
will offer some prescription coverage for seniors and disabled
people enrolled in Medicare.
"The new prescription drug benefit is a historic and sweeping
addition to our Medicare program," Gibbons said in a statement
promoting two "medicare workshops" in Carson City and Reno on
Monday. The events on the eve of the beginning of a six-month
enrollment period were billed as primers for seniors facing a
complicated menu of new coverage options.
The Gibbons events drew attacks from Gibson, who like many other
Democrats and some health advocates, have labeled the plan a boon
to the pharmaceutical industry and too complicated for average
Medicare users to understand.
Under the new program, Nevada beneficiaries must enroll in one
of about 18 plans offered by private insurers that contract with
the federal government.
Federal officials argue the competition forces insurers to lower
costs and provide more generous benefits. The cost to the federal
government of subsidizing the coverage is estimated at $720 billion
over 10 years.
"This bill was a historic and sweeping victory for the big drug
companies, who unfortunately Jim Gibbons time and again has chosen
to side with over Nevada's seniors," Gibson said in a statement.
"Gibbons stood repeatedly with the big drug companies, who have
helped fund his campaigns, voting against allowing Medicare to
negotiate for lower drug prices and to prevent Americans from
importing lower cost drugs from Canada."
Gibbons campaign spokesman Robert Uithoven called the attacks
"Gibbons has a record of supporting consumers' ability to
purchase drugs from Canada," he said, noting that the congressman
has sent a letter urging House Speaker Dennis Hastert to hold a
vote on a bill establishing a drug importation program.
Uithoven stopped short of saying the congressman would have
supported state legislation passed last spring setting up a Web
site connecting consumers to pharmacies in Canada, where
prescriptions are usually less expensive.
"The Medicare benefit is not perfect, but it was the only plan
the House and Senate and the administration for the first time
agreed to sign off on. Mayor Gibson is politician with 20-20
hindsight. If he has a better plan, let's hear it," Uithoven said.
Gibson supports allowing Medicare to negotiate with drug
companies for lower prices, an approach Uithoven said the
congressman equates with price fixing.
"When you allow the government to get involved in the price
fixing of prescriptions, then you're heading down a slippery slope
toward socialized medicine," he said.
In the race for governor, Gibson is opposed by Democratic Senate
Minority Leader Dina Titus, while Lt. Gov. Lorraine Hunt and state
Sen. Bob Beers are challenging Gibbons for the Republican