Legislators Will Focus on Drug Benefit During Recess
Many House Democrats and Republicans will use the upcoming two-week Congressional recess to push their views on the Medicare prescription drug benefit, with a focus on the upcoming May 15 enrollment deadline, CQ HealthBeat reports.
At "dueling" news conferences on Thursday, leaders from each party outlined talking points about the drug benefit for members to use in their home districts over the break, CQ HealthBeat reports (Carey, CQ HealthBeat, 4/6). According to CongressDaily, both Republicans and Democrats plan to use the recess to encourage beneficiaries to sign up for the drug benefit (CongressDaily, 4/6).
However, during the Democrats' conference on Thursday, Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) said beneficiaries are "confused, ... angry" and "confronting red tape, denials of care" because of problems with the drug benefit. He predicted Republicans would hear complaints from beneficiaries about the drug benefit over the recess.
Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.) said her office has received complaints from beneficiaries who have been unable to obtain medications. "This underscores a serious problem," Capps said, adding, "Insurers can add and remove drugs from their approved list every month, while Medicare recipients can change plans only once a year."
Meanwhile, at the Republican news conference, House Republican Conference Chair Deborah Pryce (R-Ohio), said, "The rates of success are astronomical."
Rep. Clay Shaw (R-Fla.) said the drug benefit would lower beneficiaries' drug costs (CQ HealthBeat, 4/6).
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Democrats also will use the recess to promote a deadline extension, CongressDaily reports. Beneficiaries who enroll after May 15 must pay a financial penalty in the form of higher premiums.
Pelosi said, "Because [the drug benefit] is complex, some people have not been able to find the right program to sign up for and because of the complexity, they, the seniors, will pay a 7% tax for the rest of their lives." She added, "We're asking the administration and the Republicans to extend until December the signup deadline."
House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said he will not consider a deadline extension, adding, "May 15 is the deadline, and a deadline is a deadline." Boehner said an extension would result in "tremendous additional costs" and noted that he is confident that sign-up efforts will help enrollment exceed projections (CongressDaily, 4/6).
The "new Medicare prescription drug program was supposed to help senior citizens cope with the high cost of medicine," but "[i]nstead, we've seen a sorry inside-the-beltway story of deception and self-dealing," Ron Gettelfinger, president of United Auto Workers, writes in a Detroit News opinion piece. According to Gettelfinger, Medicare has "sufficient clout to achieve major discounts" on prescription drugs, but the drug benefit "specifically prevents Medicare from negotiating lower drug prices."
The "savings that can be gained by bulk purchases are not theoretical, but a proven fact, as shown by the experience of the Veterans Administration," which "is allowed to use its purchasing power to win bulk discounts from drug makers," he writes. However, Gettelfinger adds, the 2003 Medicare law "was written by drug industry lobbyists" and "passed ... in the middle of the night, ... as desperate GOP leaders tried to twist enough arms to deliver the votes to their corporate benefactors."
He says, "[W]e need a single insurance plan, under Medicare, with the power to negotiate fair prices," concluding, "Any legislator who supports the existing law ... is putting the special interests of the pharmaceutical lobby ahead of the needs of our senior citizens" (Gettelfinger, Detroit News, 4/7).