Bush Discusses Medicare Drug Benefit
President Bush on Tuesday acknowledged problems with the implementation of the Medicare prescription drug benefit but said that the issues were being resolved and that beneficiaries should enroll, the New York Times reports. Bush addressed the drug benefit in a speech to a group of pharmacists and beneficiaries in Canandaigua, N.Y. (Sanger, New York Times, 3/15).
Calling the drug benefit a "good deal," Bush said the program "[n]ot only ... provide[s] a prescription drug benefit, but it says seniors ought to have a menu of opportunity -- different options from which to choose to meet their needs." He added, "[T]hat created some confusion initially. And I knew it would, as a matter of fact; I knew some seniors on Medicare really didn't want to be confronted with any choice, and that the myriad of options would create a little confusion to begin with" (Gerstenzang, Los Angeles Times, 3/15).
Bush said the average beneficiary is saving 50% on drug costs under the drug benefit, with low-income beneficiaries often saving even more (Loven, AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 3/15). He said that competition among Medicare drug plans has reduced monthly premiums from $37 to $25 (Dinan, Washington Times, 3/15).
In addition, costs to the federal government are about 20% less than projected, Bush said (Fletcher, Washington Post, 3/15).
CMS Administrator Mark McClellan, who joined Bush at the event, said beneficiaries "can save literally thousands of dollars on drug coverage" with the benefit. He added that wait times for the Medicare hot line are "way down" to about two minutes (Los Angeles Times, 3/15).
New York State Health Commissioner Antonia Novello, who also participated in the event, said that "things are better" with the drug benefit and that she is confident the federal government will reimburse the state for the $131 million it spent to ensure beneficiaries could obtain medications during early problems with the program (Thrush, Long Island Newsday, 3/15).
Bush is expected to discuss the drug benefit on Wednesday at a nursing home in Silver Spring, Md. (AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 3/15).
In related news, senior congressional Democrats on Tuesday sent a letter to Bush asking that he extend to the end of the year the current May 15 deadline for enrolling in the drug benefit without financial penalty, the Los Angeles Times reports.
Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) said the drug benefit is "needlessly complicated" (Los Angeles Times, 3/15).
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said, "Seniors should not be forced to pay the price for the president's confusing prescription drug plan."
Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) said the drug benefit "has been a nightmare for America's seniors and is clear evidence of the Bush administration's shocking incompetence" (Washington Times, 3/15).
House Republican Conference Chair Deborah Pryce (R-Ohio) is urging Republican lawmakers to hold events to promote the drug benefit during the two-week congressional recess in April, Roll Call reports.
Later this week, the conference will hold a "best practices" seminar to discuss the most effective ways to run Medicare events and an event planning session for legislative aides. Next week, the conference will distribute enrollment data on the drug benefit, and on March 28, conference members will begin taping public service announcements to air in their districts as the May 15 enrollment deadline nears (Roll Call, 3/15).
Groups representing black physicians and seniors on Wednesday called on black Democratic leaders to increase efforts to enroll black beneficiaries in the drug benefit, the Washington Times reports.
Sandra Gadson, president of the National Medical Association, said, "We want to take the politics out of the equation and focus on the benefits of Medicare Part D." Gadson added that black leaders "can ill afford to sit back while our senior population struggles with how to get enrolled in this valuable program."
Garth Graham, deputy assistant secretary for minority health at HHS, said the administration is working with NMA, AARP, NAACP and other groups to educate black beneficiaries about the drug benefit through town meetings, health fairs and other events (DeBose, Washington Times, 3/15).
In other Medicare news, the Baltimore Sun on Wednesday examined proposed legislative changes to the drug benefit, including a measure that would extend the enrollment deadline, and looked at how beneficiaries' experiences with the program could impact midterm elections this fall (Hirschfeld Davis, Baltimore Sun, 3/15).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.