Lawmakers To Discuss Medicare Law With Constituents During Recess
As Congress began its recess on Friday, leaders of both parties instructed members to focus on Medicare and the economy in meetings with constituents, Roll Call reports. In educational workshops, Republicans will seek to reassure voters about the value of the new Medicare law, particularly stressing the prescription drug discount cards, according to Roll Call. "We're still going to push hard on Medicare. We're getting very close to enrollment. That will be when seniors finally realize that there really are cost savings available," House Republican Conference Chair Deborah Pryce (R-Ohio) said. Stuart Roy, spokesperson for House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), added, "We're no longer really selling the bill itself, but explaining to seniors how they sign up for drug cards." Democrats are expected to emphasize what they perceive as flaws in the legislation, Roll Call reports. "The long-awaited discount card will be akin to a sale at Neiman Marcus -- jacking it up before the sale," Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) said. "Seniors are seriously disturbed by the numerous scandals [surrounding the new law] and support continues to plummet despite the millions of taxpayer dollars being spent on a political advertising campaign to boost support," Stacey Farnen, spokesperson for House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), said. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) has asked Democratic lawmakers to survey prescription drug prices in their districts now and this summer (Pershing/Billings, Roll Call, 4/5).
The various ongoing investigations related to the new Medicare law "could be a potent tool" in the upcoming election, the Baltimore Sun reports. According to the Sun, lawmakers in both parties see investigations "as a way to shine an unflattering public spotlight on the opposing party's candidate. Presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) has said that the inquiries related to the Medicare law -- including investigations into allegations of bribery in the vote and inquiries into the possibility that the Bush administration withheld cost estimates from Congress -- are evidence of Bush's "credibility gap." But DeLay said that Democrats are focusing on the Medicare investigations because "they have no agenda," adding, "All they have is to try to undermine the president's credibility and try to tear down the House to take it over ... It's just political nonsense." Paul Light, a professor of public service at New York University, said, "It's an embarrassment of riches for the Democrats. The problem for Bush is that his re-election campaign is predicated on the notion that he's the one to decide, that he makes good decisions. ... All of these investigations undermine that message." Light added, however, "If Democrats had any sense at all ... they'd shut up and let the media ... and the inspector general of HHS go about their business. Right now, all of these investigations are phenomenally untainted by any sort of partisan coloration" (Hirschfeld Davis, Baltimore Sun, 3/5).
The Los Angeles Times on Monday examined the new Medicare prescription drug discount program, which will be launched in June and is intended to provide beneficiaries with some relief on drug costs until the Medicare drug benefit begins in 2006 (Roan, Los Angeles Times, 4/5). As part of the new Medicare law, the discount cards will be available beginning in May to all beneficiaries who do not have prescription drug coverage through Medicaid. The discount cards could offer savings of about 10% to 25% on beneficiaries' prescription drug costs until the new prescription drug benefit takes effect in 2006. Companies offering the cards can charge an annual enrollment fee of up to $30 and many will reportedly offer savings on at least one drug in each of 209 categories of medicines commonly used by Medicare beneficiaries. HHS last week approved 28 private companies to offer 49 different discount cards to Medicare beneficiaries. Under the discount program, beneficiaries with annual incomes less than $12,569 for individuals or $16,862 for couples will be eligible for a $600 annual subsidy for their prescription drug costs and will not have to pay any enrollment fees (California Healthline, 4/1). Supporters of the program say it will help beneficiaries with their prescription drug costs, but some consumer advocates say that the program "will be confusing and involve some guesswork" and "is unlikely to produce significant savings," according to the Times. Tricia Neuman, a Kaiser Family Foundation vice president and director of its Medicare Policy Project, said, "There is a lot about the plan that could be quite confusing for seniors, starting with the fact that a government-endorsed drug-discount card is not the same as the Medicare drug benefit. [Beneficiaries] have been hearing about the drug benefit for years. They may think this is their new Medicare benefit card when it is really a drug discount card." John Rother, policy director for AARP, said that consumers will be able to expect the largest discounts on generic drugs, while brand-name drugs will likely be discounted only slightly or not at all. Jamie Court, president of the Foundation for Taxpayer & Consumer Rights, added that the discount cards "do nothing to address the rising cost of prescription drugs," according to the Times. However, "nearly everyone agrees" that low-income Medicare beneficiaries will benefit from the program, the Times reports. "People who qualify for [the $600 subsidy] should take full advantage of this. It's a big deal," Rother said (Roan, Los Angeles Times, 4/5).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.