How the Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit Became Law

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.


july 12, 2001: President Bush lays out plans for Medicare prescription drug benefit.

june 20, 2003: Medicare actuary Richard Foster is warned not to disclose to Congress his estimate of the proposal’s true cost. “The consequences for insubordination are extremely severe,” Foster is told.

june 27, 2003: Senate and House approve different versions of the drug bill. Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., one of the legislation’s principal authors, describes it as “a shot of legislative botox [that] will rejuvenate an antiquated program by eliminating the age-old lines of a different era.”

july 15, 2003: Conference committee of 5 Democrats and 12 Republicans begins work to reconcile the two versions of the bill.

nov 13, 2003: President Bush calls on Congress to “finish the job.”

nov 17, 2003: aarp endorses bill, launches $7 million ad campaign.

nov 21, 2003: Bush calls wavering Republicans from Air Force One.

nov 22, 2003:
3:01am3:01 a.m. House begins voting on unified bill; roll call to last 15 minutes.
3:30am3:30 a.m. With bill losing 212-to-214, Speaker Dennis Hastert keeps voting open.
4:15am4:15 a.m. Bush calls several lawmakers, pleading for votes.
4:20am4:20 a.m. Hastert and hhs Secretary Tommy Thompson, who have been scurrying around House floor rounding up votes, corral Rep. Nick Smith, R-Mich.; he’ll later say (and then recant claim) that they offered donations and endorsements for his son’s congressional campaign in return for a vote.
5:53am5:53 a.m. After longest roll call in House history, bill is approved 220-to-215.

dec 16, 2003: Thomas Scully resigns as administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, joins Alston & Bird, where he will lobby for drug companies.

march 5, 2004: Patrick Morrisey, who as chief health counsel of the House energy and commerce committee was a principal staff author of the bill, takes job as lobbyist for drugmakers. In all, 15 members of Congress, staffers, and officials who worked on the drug bill will go to work for industry.

sept 30, 2004: Following an investigation of Rep. Smith’s bribery allegations, House ethics committee admonishes three representatives, including Majority Leader Tom DeLay and Rep. Smith himself, for “making public statements that risked impugning the reputation of the House.”

dec 15, 2004: Rep. Tauzin named president of drug lobby group PhRMA; annual pay reported at $2 million.



Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend