"Fixing Medicare": drug program flawed

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2006-03-31

Dear Editor [of north suburban Chicago Pioneer Press],

In response to the letter that appeared on March 30 regarding the writer's easy experience in signing his mother up for the Medicare prescription drug program, the writer claims that "with a small amount of effort any senior can easily sign up" -- one might wonder why the mother herself was not able to do it. He also questions the "75% senior confusion rate" in his letter, (actually, the confused percentage was 73%) But this information appeared in a December 15, 2005 article in the Wall Street Journal Online from the poll taken of retirees in Florida where 73% of seniors called the new benefit "too complicated and confusing."

And in an article on the front page of the Chicago Tribune of March 15, 2006 "Plan B Plus Plan D Equals a Mess" the bureaucratic problems arising from the many drug companies' myriad medical formularies and different plans are detailed -- problems which could have been predicted before the implementation of the program began.

But aside from that difficulty, what is bad about this bill is: Primarily it helps only a small minority of the elderly population -- those living on very low incomes -- with real assistance for their prescription drugs. But for the overwhelming number of middle class and lower middle class elderly who must pay close to market price for the drugs it does very little to ease the burden of the continually rising cost (the cost of drugs has risen an average of 15% in the 2 years since passage of the bill) -- since it prohibits any control of their price. The Veterans Administration has price controls on their drug purchases, but this was specifically outlawed in the writing of the Prescription drug bill -- which, I am informed, was drafted by a committee that included Congressman Mark Kirk.

But the rest of the bill is flawed too: Among other things, it allows a massive transfer of assets out of the taxpayer-funded Medicare Trust Fund into private insurance companies' hands to "entice" them into the Medicare program. The removal of these funds will create pressure to limit medical care, increase beneficiary costs, and require cuts in Medicare provider service. Already the cost of the Medicare premium for the elderly went up an average of 14% each year after the passage of the bill and is slated to go up again in 2007 and beyond.

The bill, as passed, is exorbitantly expensive mainly because of its huge subsidies to industry, has little to do with "fixing Medicare," and everything to do with crippling its traditional guaranteed benefits -- which were successful and popular and needed only an additional simple supplemental drug benefit, as the VA does traditionally, at government-negotiated discount prices.