House Committee Discusses Medicare Drug Benefit Launch
Members of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, HHS, Education and Related Agencies at a hearing on Wednesday praised and criticized HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt on the launch of the Medicare prescription drug benefit, CQ HealthBeat reports. Leavitt appeared at the hearing to address the fiscal year 2007 budget proposed by President Bush, but "much of the discussion centered on the drug benefit," CQ HealthBeat reports.
Subcommittee Republicans praised Leavitt on the launch of the Medicare prescription drug benefit.
Rep. Dave Weldon (R-Fla.) said, "That's a big elephant to swallow in one bite, and I think you are doing a good job," adding that he has received "very positive feedback" from constituents.
However, subcommittee Democrats criticized Leavitt, raising concerns about problems with the distribution of medications, the inability of certain beneficiaries to switch plans and the increased cost of prescription drugs.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) called the Medicare prescription drug benefit a "bait-and-switch," adding, "It is subsidies to the pharmaceutical industries and subsidies to the insurance industries."
Leavitt, who in large part defended the Medicare prescription drug benefit, said that "enrollment is up, problems are down and prices are coming down" (Rooney, CQ HealthBeat, 3/8).
Seniors in Georgia and five other states have reported a telephone scam in which callers attempt to convince Medicare beneficiaries to purchase nonexistent prescription drug plans, according to CMS officials, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. In the scam, called the "$299 Ring," callers attempt to convince Medicare beneficiaries to withdraw $299 from their checking accounts electronically.
Some callers have pretended to represent the Social Security Administration, the American Medical Association and other organizations, according to the Atlanta Senior Medicare Patrol (Miller, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 3/9).
Critics of the Medicare prescription drug benefit "seem to have forgotten ... that the government is offering a true drug benefit" to ensure that beneficiaries "do not have to resort to pill splitting, illegal and potentially unsafe imported drugs, or worse, no drugs at all," former HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson writes in an Orlando Sentinel opinion piece. Although some critics have said that the "new benefit is confusing because beneficiaries are faced with too many choices," Thompson asks whether they would "give up choice and trust a government-mandated standard benefit?"
Thompson acknowledges that "concerns raised about the somewhat rough start to this drug benefit are legitimate" but adds that "they reflect bumps in the road, not underlying flaws in the program." He concluded, "It is not time to scrap the game plan yet, but perhaps we only need a reprieve from the attacks to give the program a chance to work" (Thompson, Orlando Sentinel, 3/7).