House Republicans Launch ‘Media Counteroffensive’ in Response to Criticism of Medicare Law
In response to criticism of the new Medicare law (HR 1) from some Democrats, the House Republican Conference is launching a "media counteroffensive" in the form of public service announcements to highlight certain changes under the legislation, Roll Call reports. Conference staff members have begun to develop a script for House members to use for the PSAs, which would air on television and radio stations in their districts, according to conference spokesperson Greg Crist. According to the script, the member would introduce himself or herself, tell the audience that there are new Medicare benefits and instruct beneficiaries to visit medicare.gov or call 1-800-MEDICARE or their representative's office for more information on the changes. Members who tape the PSAs would not be allowed to explain why they supported the bill, and they would be restricted to giving information only about the prescription drug discount card program and the prescription drug benefit. "It's another tool to let seniors know there are options available to them," Crist said. Roll Call reports that the House Republican Conference on Wednesday will hold a staff meeting to further plan how members can explain the Medicare law to constituents, possibly through district forums. Jennifer Crider, a spokesperson for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said that the Conference's new strategy "shows that Republicans are in trouble," adding, "Recent polling shows what Democrats have known all along -- that the more seniors learn about this bill the less they like." Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesperson Kori Bernards said, "No amount of PSAs or flashy advertising will trick seniors into thinking this bill will bring down the cost of their prescription medicines" (Pierce, Roll Call, 2/10).
The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday examined the "uphill battle" the Bush administration has encountered in convincing the public of the benefits of the new Medicare law. Many Medicare beneficiaries have formed "strong opinions" on the legislation "that will be hard to shake," according to the Journal. Recent polls show that up to 33% of the public views the Medicare bill negatively, and Democrats have criticized the bill as a "giveaway to the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries," the Journal reports. In addition, some Democrats and Republicans have questioned why the administration's most recent cost estimate -- $534 billion over 10 years -- for the law exceeds an earlier estimate of $400 billion over 10 years. Several lawmakers have introduced legislation that would to change various provisions in the law. In response, the Bush administration has launched a campaign to promote the new law. Some Democrats, however, have said that the campaign is too political and have asked the General Accounting Office to examine the legality of using federal funds for such an effort (Lueck, Wall Street Journal, 2/10).
The Medicare Rights Center, a patient advocacy group, is using its weekly newsletter "Dear Marci" to answer beneficiaries' questions about the new Medicare law, the New York Times reports. Developed two years ago to answer questions about the program and distribute health tips and information about health resources on the Internet, "Dear Marci" is sent at no cost by email to thousands of people each week and serves as a "Dear Abby" column for "older adults struggling to get answers to their health care," according to Diane Archer, the center's founder. Each year, the center receives more than 75,000 questions, and since the passage of the Medicare legislation in November, the newsletter has received an increased number of questions. Frequent questions concern coverage for hospital services and prescription drug costs, the Times reports. The newsletter uses the questions to highlight different topics each week, such as supplemental coverage and the new drug discount program. Beginning in March, the center will answer questions online at medicareinteractive.org (McNamara, New York Times, 2/10).
The Philadelphia Inquirer on Tuesday examined the Medicare drug discount card program. The drug discount card, intended to provide prescription drug assistance to beneficiaries until the Medicare prescription drug benefit begins in 2006, is expected to allow beneficiaries access to discounts of about 10% to 25% on more than 200 classes of prescription drugs, according to the Inquirer. CMS estimates that more than seven million people will sign up for the discount cards. Low-income beneficiaries -- those with annual income less than $12,123 for an individual and $16,362 for a couple -- will receive a $600 annual subsidy for their prescription drugs and are likely to benefit the most from the discount program, the Inquirer reports. For many other beneficiaries, the program will likely be "more confusing than helpful" because of the variety of cards and discounts available, according to the Inquirer. "You can't overstate the potential for confusion here," Tricia Neuman, a Kaiser Family Foundation vice president and director of its Medicare Policy Project, said. Robert Hayes, president of the Medicare Rights Center, said, "For some people, [the cards] may provide a minor benefit, but it is unpredictable, because no one knows for sure what drugs will be covered by particular cards" (Loyd, Philadelphia Inquirer, 2/10).
CNN's "Crossfire" on Monday interviewed Reps. David Dreier (R-Calif.) and Martin Meehan (D-Mass.) about several issues, including the differing cost estimates for the new Medicare law (Carlson/Carville, "Crossfire," CNN, 2/9). The complete transcript of the segment is available online.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.