Frist lauds drug card

By Julie Fann
star staff
jfann@starhq.com

  Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist on Thursday lauded the tobacco buyout that is part of a large corporate tax bill passed by the House-Senate conference committee. Frist said the buyout will bring $767 million into the state over the next 10 years.
  A Senate link to the bill that would allow the Federal Drug Administration to regulate the tobacco industry, however, lost in conference Wednesday. Frist called the decision "unfortunate".
  "I believe the FDA should be involved in limiting smoking. We know it's the number one health destroyer in America today. But it's not in this particular bill, unfortunately," Frist said during a teleconference.
  The House-Senate conference committee approved a $10.1 billion buyout to provide tobacco farmers with payments for selling back to the government the quotas they own and which determine how much tobacco can be grown each year. The tobacco buyout is part of a rewrite of a corporate tax law that would end a grueling trade dispute with Europe.
  The measure would repeal a tax break for thousands of American exporters that has been ruled illegal by the World Trade Organization. As a replacement, the proposal offers more than $140 billion in tax breaks for a wide range of businesses, from multinational companies to bow and arrow makers.
  Fishermen, farmers and taxpayers in states that do not have individual state income taxes would also benefit.
  The bill now heads to the House for debate.
  Frist called the tax relief the third largest in a generation and one of his proudest achievements during his two years as Senate Majority Leader.
  He also praised the controversial Medicare bill slated to offer drug discounts to seniors but which Democrats call too confusing.
  "The card will give seniors discounts anywhere from 17 to 24 percent of what they're paying today. In addition, low-income seniors get an additional $12 in value of drugs free with the card," Frist said. Next week, the senator plans a statewide tour for the express purpose of explaining the drug card to seniors.
  Frist dodged a suggestion made by reporters that his motivations may be political with the approaching election. He said seniors who fail to sign up for the drug card now will miss out on $600 of $1,200 in yearly value and that is why he's touring the state. "If I wait until after Jan. 1, seniors will only get $600 as opposed to the $1,200 they could have if they sign up now," he said.
  Frist will appear in Chattanooga, Knoxville, Bristol, Jackson, and Memphis next week.