Bush To Promote Medicare Prescription Drug Discount Card Program in Missouri
President Bush will travel to Liberty, Mo., on Monday to promote the new Medicare prescription drug discount cards, which went into effect this month, USA Today reports. Although Bush had hoped that passage of the new Medicare law would be a "political plus" for his administration in the upcoming presidential election, experts say that beneficiaries remain confused about the new drug card program, and its enrollment is "lagging," according to USA Today. So far, about three million beneficiaries have signed up for the drug cards. Of those, 600,000 enrolled on their own, and the remainder were enrolled automatically through their HMOs. According to White House officials, Bush's trip to Missouri is "official business." Some observers expressed doubts about the president's plans to promote the drug card program in Missouri. "You are not in a good political position if you have to go out and explain your program because people don't understand it," Merle Black, a political scientist at Emory University, said. Bush's plan to promote the drug card program in Missouri, comes as the most recent national polls show him slightly trailing presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry (Mass.). Missouri's 11 electoral votes "could be pivotal in November," according to USA Today. In Missouri, where Bush won by three percentage points in the 2000 presidential election, Kerry leads Bush 49% to 46%, according to a statewide poll conducted in February (Benedetto, USA Today, 6/14).
U.S. Department of Agriculture officials announced on Friday that Medicare beneficiaries eligible for food stamps who also enroll in the drug card program will "see no reduction in their monthly [food stamp] allotments," the AP/Arizona Republic reports (AP/Arizona Republic, 6/12). The issue came to light after a constituent recently contacted Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) with concerns that she might lose her food stamp benefits as a result of her participation in the drug discount card program, CongressDaily reports (Rovner, CongressDaily, 6/11). According to a memo issued in March by USDA, people receiving food stamps "may not claim a medical deduction" on reported income "for any prescriptions they receive free through use" of a Medicare drug discount card (AP/Arizona Republic, 6/12). The memo stated that the drug card program's $600 subsidy for low-income beneficiaries and any copayments beneficiaries made could be counted as medical deductions. As a result of the memo, Judy Toelle, director of South Dakota's food stamp program, said the program had been assuming that, for example, a person with $300 in prescription drug spending per month might pay only $30 for medications after enrolling in the discount card program. Thus, the program would presume that person had $270 more in income and would reduce his or her food stamp allotment accordingly. During a Senate Finance Committee hearing last week, CMS Administrator Mark McClellan said that assistance available for beneficiaries through the drug discount card program "cannot take away any existing federal benefits" (Rovner, CongressDaily, 6/10).
Undersecretary of Agriculture Eric Bost said, "We will immediately be clarifying policy guidance to ensure that food stamp applicants who are recipients who use the new Medicare discount card will experience no impact on their eligibility or benefits." Bush administration officials said they do not yet know how to avoid reductions in food stamp benefits for Medicare beneficiaries enrolled in the discount card program, but it is possible they will allow Medicare beneficiaries to take a deduction for medical expenses they do not actually incur, the New York Times reports. Daschle said, "This reversal in policy by the administration means that seniors will no longer have to worry about making a painful decision between their food stamp assistance and getting this help with their prescriptions" (Pear, New York Times, 6/13). He added, however, that the situation illustrates continuing confusion about the drug card program (AP/Arizona Republic, 6/12). NPR's "Morning Edition" on Friday reported on the questions surrounding food stamp benefits affected by the Medicare prescription drug discount cards. The segment includes comments from Jody Cornwell, president of the American Association of Food Stamp Directors; Daschle; McClellan; HHS spokesperson Bill Pierce; and Toelle (Rovner, "Morning Edition," NPR, 6/11). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer. Expanded NPR coverage is available online.
Other newspapers published stories related to the new Medicare law. Summaries of those stories appear below.
Hartford Courant: The article examines the controversy over payments to private plans called for by the Medicare law, which will increase program costs by $14 billion to $46 billion over the next decade (MacDonald, Hartford Courant, 6/12).
Los Angeles Times: The article examines the ongoing confusion over the drug card program and how it might be affecting enrollment (Kristof, Los Angeles Times, 6/13).
- Providence Journal: The article examines concerns voiced by a number of seniors' groups over the new drug card program at a Connecticut House news conference on Thursday (Freyer, Providence Journal, 6/11).
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