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New Medicare Changes Constitute A Farce

by Betty Soldz

The new Medicare "Reform Legislation" just passed by Congress will affect elders in many unexpected ways. Most of them are detrimental.

Conservative forces in the Administration, the Congress and private industry have worked to change the nature of the most successful health program for seniors and people with disabilities. Under the guise of adding an (inadequate) prescription drug benefit to Medicare, Congress has hidden some frightening changes to the program.

Medicare will no longer be a universal program. Starting in 2007 the Part B premium will be linked to income for the first time in the history of the Medicare Program. Because it has been a universal program it has been well accepted which may not be so when these changes begin.

Congress passed a bill that will give billions of dollars to the healthcare industry, while millions of seniors and people with disabilities will lose employer-sponsored coverage, will be forced into large privatization grants, and will face large gaps in coverage. According to Senator Edward M. Kennedy, "The more that senior citizens learn about what is in the bill the more concerned they are. It's a sweetheart deal for insurance companies, a bonanza for pharmaceutical firms, and a travesty for senior citizens."

The Medicare Prescription Drug bill which Congress passed has "a hole in the middle." After you pay your $35.00 a month premium and your deductible of $250.00 dollars you will get help with your drug costs till you have spent $2,250.00. Then, when you might need assistance the most, you have to continue paying the monthly premium but have no coverage until you have spent $3600 out of pocket. For someone who has prescription drug costs of $5000.00 this means they will only save about 22%. Someone who has a $1000.00 drug bill will save 14%. This is less than you probably can save by importing your drugs from Canada, which the Bush Administration would like to stop you from doing.

Patients will not be guaranteed their desired medications — only drugs treating their general ailments. Insurers can opt to drop a drug even after the patient is locked into a plan, and need only alert seniors by posting the change on the Internet.

One of the weirdest points of the bill is that the government is prohibited from negotiating with the drug industry for lower prices on drugs as other countries do.

A most worrisome issue is a trial premium support program beginning in 2010. which will allow competition between Medicare and private plans. Although, right now, this is a six year demonstration program, if the Republican strengthen their control of the White House and President Bush is reelected it is feared that they will push to make this a permanent part of Medicare.

Medicare will soon issue a Prescription Drug Card to be used to supposedly reduce seniors drug expenses until the new Medicare Drug coverage goes into affect in January 2006. Because this card is a farce, I would like to quote from Senator Edward Kennedy's statement on December 10, 2003 about these cards:

Only in this Administration would the words "discount card" mean seniors get the card while corporations get the discounts. In fact, the more senior citizens learn about the Administration's prescription drug program, the angrier they get and rightly so. Buried in today's announcement of the rules for the so-called prescription drug discount card is the revelation that companies offering the cards are not required to pass on any discounts they obtain to beneficiaries. The Bush Administration allows private companies to use Medicare's name to market the cards. The Bush Administration allows these companies to use Medicare's buying power to negotiate discounts from drug manufacturers. But when it comes to benefits for senior citizens, the Bush Administration is missing in action. Once again, it has put corporate profits ahead of patients' needs."

Lastly, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that 3.8 million retirees, about one-third of all nonfederal retirees who have health insurance provided by their former employers, will have their more generous private coverage reduced or eliminated. Dr. Laurie Young, Executive Director of OWL, the Voice of Midlife and Older Women, suggests that "the battle over access to affordable quality healthcare and Senior's support system has begun. Medicare was first: Social Security will be next."

Older women have a lot to loose in this issue. We must continue to fight for a universal, voluntary, comprehensive, affordable Medicare prescription drug benefit. As House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi stated, "American seniors deserve a better bill then this."

Write your congress persons. Demand something better. We will be heard!

Additional Resources:

PBS Online News Hour report

Public Citizen's Medicare Section

NOW Health Issues

Consumers Union Medicare analysis

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