Prescription drug bill is bad deal, political ruse

The current form of the legislation jeopardizes the health care coverage of millions of seniors. Currently in the United States, 12 million seniors enjoy retirement health care benefits from their former employers. Under the new prescription drug bill, this coverage has tremendous potential to become reduced, or the cost dramatically inflated. A provision of the legislation amends the 1967 Age Discrimination in Employment Act to give employers permission to stop coverage for seniors who are eligible for Medicare or state-sponsored programs. Even the Congressional Budget Office acknowledges that many seniors could lose their company-sponsored drug benefits as a result of this provision that permits companies to drop retirees’ coverage. Republicans tout this bill as offering seniors choice when, in fact, it is systematically stripping them of their company-sponsored benefits. Suddenly dependent on the new Medicare, seniors run the high risk of having to pay more in premiums. The Bush Administration concedes that the average Medicare premium in the United States will jump 25 percent after the bill is enacted.

Cost is another perturbing aspect of the new Medicare bill. The bill itself calls for a program that will cost $400 billion when it is instituted in 2006. As more and more members of the baby boom generation age, Medicare costs will logically increase. The legislation, as a result of powerful lobbying groups, nonsensically caps Medicare spending while giving health maintenance organizations huge subsidies. In addition, the bill explicitly prohibits government from using the power of the 40 million American drug consumers in Medicare to negotiate lower drug costs with the drug companies. While keeping HMOs in the game and not allowing Medicare to barter for better drug prices, the result is a bill that does little to decrease the cost of prescription drugs. The bill also disallows the importation of drugs from Canada or other foreign countries, in effect providing no competition and no impetus for the pharmaceutical industry to lower prices. While seniors aren’t given drug relief, HMOs are granted a billion dollar subsidy and drug companies can maintain their exorbitantly high prices.

Additionally, the timing of this legislation is suspect. In passing this bill at the close of 2003, the President can claim responsiveness to the nation’s seniors even though the legislation’s effectiveness in providing benefits to seniors will never be tested until 2006. Senior citizens, who represent the voting bloc that consistently has the highest voter turnout as well as a powerful voting group in the pivotal state of Florida, will be a heavily courted group in the 2004 Presidential contest. As the President seeks to acquire the votes of Florida’s senior citizens in 2004, a cruel trap is being sprung. When the legislation takes effect in 2006, 160,000 of these senior retirees in Florida, whose votes are currently being courted, as well 2.5 million others nationwide will have their company prescription drug coverage stripped away; 360,000 of these Florida senior citizens along with six million other low-income seniors nationwide will have to pay more for their prescription drugs than they do presently.

So if not seniors, who really wins with this legislation? The answer: drug companies win because they no longer have to worry about price controls or the importation of foreign drugs; HMOs win with the billion dollar subsidy; and the president himself wins for now he is able to seize an issue from Democrats with the appearance of being concerned about this Nation’s seniors when, in fact, he has passed a bill that is detrimental to seniors’ health care coverage. As the President and Congress sideline this greatest generation’s health care, we should all recognize the Medicare prescription drug bill as the political ploy it actually is.

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