Bush Pushes Medicare Drug Benefit
President Bush met with seniors in Florida on Tuesday as part of an effort to urge Medicare beneficiaries to sign up for the prescription drug benefit before Monday's enrollment deadline, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports (LaMendola, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 5/10). Bush spoke to beneficiaries at Broward County Community College and at the Sun City Center retirement community (Gerstenzang, Los Angeles Times, 5/10).
During his visit, Bush said the drug benefit is "a good deal" and the large number of plans available strengthens the program (Jackson, USA Today, 5/10). "The more choices you have, the more likely it is you'd be able to find a program that suits your specific needs," Bush said, adding, "In other words, one-size-fits-all is not a consumer friendly program" (Los Angeles Times, 5/10).
Bush added, "The program is saving seniors a lot of money. And as a result of people competing for your business, it's saving the taxpayers money" (Curl, Washington Times, 5/10).
When asked about extending the May 15 deadline to enroll in the drug benefit without penalty, Bush said, "Deadlines help people understand there's finality, and people need to get after it, you know?"
More than 31 million people, including more than 8 million who signed up for new coverage, now have prescription drug insurance "as a direct or indirect result" of drug benefit, according to Medicare officials, USA Today reports (USA Today, 5/10). About 5.7 million of the 42 million beneficiaries who are eligible for the drug benefit have not yet enrolled, according to the Bush administration.
According to administration officials and advocates, enrollment has been the lowest among low-income beneficiaries (Murray/Fletcher, Washington Post, 5/10). Bush will make a similar visit to Orlando on Wednesday (Los Angeles Times, 5/10).
The Bush administration on Tuesday announced that it will not impose late-enrollment penalties on beneficiaries who qualify for a low-income subsidy under the drug benefit, CQ Today reports (Crowley, CQ Today, 5/9). According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, beneficiaries with disabilities also are exempt from the penalty (Pugh, Philadelphia Inquirer, 5/10).
The penalty is equal to a 1% increase in premiums for each month of delayed enrollment. In a previous announcement, the Bush administration exempted low-income beneficiaries from the May 15 coverage deadline (CQ Today, 5/9). Low-income beneficiaries have until Dec. 31 to enroll, the Inquirer reports (Pugh, Philadelphia Inquirer, 5/10).
Julie Goon, senior adviser to HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt, said about half of the 5.7 million beneficiaries who have not yet enrolled in the drug benefit are eligible for the low-income subsidy (CQ Today, 5/9).
To be eligible for the subsidy, individual beneficiaries must have annual incomes below $14,700 and assets below $11,500, and couples must have annual incomes below $19,800 and assets of less than $23,000, according to the Inquirer (Philadelphia Inquirer, 5/10).
Goon said that because low-income beneficiaries must complete two steps to enroll -- applying through Social Security for the subsidy and choosing a plan -- the process could be cumbersome, the Washington Post reports. Goon added, "It would cost more to collect it than it would be to actually have the value of that penalty collected" (Washington Post, 5/10).
The penalty would have amounted to 40 cents annually for low-income beneficiaries, in part because low-income beneficiaries pay only 20% of their drug benefit premiums, CMS estimates. Under the 2003 Medicare law, the agency can waive the penalty in cases where a small amount of money is involved, CQ Today reports (CQ Today, 5/9).
Several sources on Wednesday published related articles on the drug benefit. Summaries appear below.
CQ HealthBeat: Nearly one million Hispanic Medicare beneficiaries have not enrolled in the drug benefit, according to a report released on Tuesday by the League of United Latin American Citizens and the Institute for America's Future, CQ HealthBeat reports. Speaking at an event to promote the report, Rep. Hilda Solis (D-Calif.) said many Hispanics "have no clue that this process has been open and available to them." CMS spokesperson Kathleen Harrington said that 70% of eligible Hispanic beneficiaries are enrolled and that CMS has held more than 600 events targeting the Latino community (Carey/Reichard, CQ HealthBeat, 5/9).
Baltimore Sun: The Sun on Wednesday examined how the drug benefit could affect the November congressional elections. According to the Sun, Bush's speeches in Florida this week "reflec[t] a new belief among party strategists that Republicans have neutralized senior citizens' anger about the [drug benefit] and could even win election-year rewards for having backed it." Democrats -- who will hold a rally on Wednesday to continue their criticism of the program -- "are counting on voter discontent ... to help propel them to victories in November," the Sun reports (Hirschfeld Davis, Baltimore Sun, 5/10).
The Hill: The Hill on Wednesday examined the "Republican incumbents and challengers in key House and Senate races [who] have sided with Democrats to support postponing" the enrollment deadline (McCormack/Sheffield, The Hill, 5/10).
The Hill: According to The Hill, the drug benefit, along with other issues, "have eclipsed Social Security" as a key campaign issue for both Republicans and Democrats. Although Social Security "has proved a winning issue for Democrats" in past elections, this year they "believe they will be more effective if they hold their fire and hammer away on Medicare first," The Hill reports (Kaplan, The Hill, 5/10).
New York Times: Opinions about the drug benefit might be "turning" toward the positive, according to the most recent New York Times/CBS News Poll, the Times reports. Forty percent of respondents ages 65 and older said the drug benefit would reduce drug costs, compared with 20% in a December poll. Forty-two percent of those surveyed said their drug expenses decreased after they signed up for the drug benefit, compared with 19% who said they were paying more, the survey says. In addition, three-quarters of respondents ages 65 and older said the drug benefit is difficult to understand, and 81% said the deadline should be extended (Rutenberg/Connelly, New York Times, 5/10).
USA Today: USA Today on Wednesday examined the drug benefit program's success in enrolling beneficiaries thus far. Observers likely will evaluate the drug benefit on three levels: how it works for consumers, for insurers and for policymakers, according to USA Today (Appleby , USA Today, 5/10).
- USA Today: Some lawmakers and consumer groups are calling for CMS to release data on Medicare drug plans' service and quality, but agency officials say the information will not be available until after the enrollment deadline, USA Today reports. CMS Administrator Mark McClellan said the data should be available before the 2007 enrollment period begins Nov. 15 (Appleby , USA Today, 5/10).
Several broadcast programs reported on the Medicare prescription drug benefit and the upcoming enrollment deadline:
- APM's "Marketplace Morning Report": The segment includes comments from Judith Stein, executive director of the Center for Medicare Advocacy (Palmer, "Marketplace Morning Report," APM, 5/9). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.
- CBS' "Evening News": The segment includes comments from Bush and Medicare beneficiaries (Axelrod, "Evening News," CBS, 3/9). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.
- CBS' "Evening News": The segment includes comments from a physician working with Medicare beneficiaries in a nursing home in Missouri and family members of Medicare beneficiaries (Andrews, "Evening News," CBS, 3/9). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.
- NPR's "All Things Considered": The segment includes comments from Bush; Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chair Michael Enzi (R-Wyo.); Sens. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.); and Florida state Sen. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D) (Rovner, "All Things Considered," NPR, 3/9). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.
- NPR's "All Things Considered": The segment includes comments from Alan Julius, a pharmacist in Cherokee, Iowa (Norris, "All Things Considered," NPR, 3/9). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.
- PBS' "Nightly Business Report": The segment includes comments from Bush; Tricia Neuman, a Kaiser Family Foundation vice president and director of its Medicare Policy Project; and Stabenow (Dhue, "Nightly Business Report," PBS, 3/9). The complete transcript is available online.