Leavitt: No Extension for Medicare Drug Benefit Enrollment
HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt on Thursday said that he would not extend the May 15 deadline to enroll in the Medicare drug benefit without financial penalties, saying that an extension would "require congressional action," the Contra Costa Times reports. "I do not have the regulatory authority that would permit that," he said.
In an interview with the Times, Leavitt said that an enrollment deadline is necessary because people otherwise would delay signing up for a drug plan. Leavitt on Thursday appeared at an enrollment event in Oakland as part of a nationwide tour to promote the drug benefit.
Leavitt added that conditions would improve as time goes on. "The plans will be more mature, consumers will be better informed, the government will be better at its role, the pharmacies will understand the system," he said.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Pete Stark (D-Calif.) on Thursday issued statements calling for an extension to the enrollment deadline (Kleffman, Contra Costa Times, 4/20).
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that extending the enrollment deadline through December would reduce enrollment penalties for 10 million people. The extension would cost about $3.4 billion (Vesely, Oakland Tribune, 4/21).
Last week, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) extended through May 16 emergency prescription drug coverage for residents dually eligible for Medicare and Medi-Cal who are having problems obtaining medicine under the Medicare drug benefit (California Healthline, 4/18).
Leavitt said that the federal government will reimburse states for expenses incurred in providing emergency drug coverage through March 31, but not for expenses incurred after that date.
Leavitt said, "California made a decision to go longer than that," adding, "That's clearly up to them."
California to date has spent more than $50 million providing emergency drug coverage (Contra Costa Times, 4/20).