President Bush Promotes Medicare Prescription Discount Drug Card Program in Missouri Visit
President Bush on Monday promoted the new Medicare prescription drug discount card program in Missouri, the Washington Times reports (Lakely, Washington Times, 6/15). Bush's appearance in Liberty, Mo., his fifth visit to the state in six months, marks the "first time he has devoted a trip to promoting the discount cards, according to the Washington Post (Goldstein, Washington Post, 6/15). During his visit, Bush accompanied a 74-year-old resident of nearby Kansas City to a pharmacy, where she saved nearly $17 on a prescription that usually costs her $19 (Benedetto, USA Today, 6/15). Bush said, "One reason we're here is we want people to understand the benefits of this card" (Kraske/Bavley, Knight Ridder/Kansas City Star, 6/15). In a speech following the pharmacy trip, Bush acknowledged that the discount card program has had "some problems," and he noted that enrollment has been lower than expected (Washington Post, 6/15). However, the program "is working," Bush said (AP/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 6/15). He added, "The reason we're here is to share information. We're trying to fight through the clutter, the noise, so that people can understand that there is a great opportunity to take advantage of a good piece of legislation. ... This is a program that helps people" (Barfield Berry, Long Island Newsday, 6/15).
CMS Administrator Mark McClellan, who accompanied Bush on the trip, "would not agree with a reporter's premise that the program was problem-plagued and off to a slow start," but he did say that there are challenges for any new government program, according to the Los Angeles Times (Chen, Los Angeles Times, 6/15). McClellan noted that the discount card program is expected to cost $2.3 billion this year and $2.8 billion next year (Washington Times, 6/15). According to Knight Ridder/Kansas City Star, "[a]t times," Bush's visit "resembled an infomercial," with both McClellan and Bush promoting the 1-800-MEDICARE phone line and Medicare Web site as the best tools to help beneficiaries pick a discount card (Knight Ridder/Kansas City Star, 6/15).
Prior to Bush's visit to Missouri on Monday, the campaign of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) issued a "stinging critique" of the drug card program, saying it will "often leave older Americans paying higher prices for prescriptions they already can obtain through other kinds of pharmaceutical discounts," the Post reports. Kerry reiterated his call for Congress to reverse provisions in the new Medicare law that prohibit the federal government from negotiating discounts directly with pharmaceutical companies and U.S. residents from purchasing lower-cost, U.S.-made medications in other countries (Washington Post, 6/15). Kerry spokesperson Bill Burton said, "Instead of providing seniors with the discounts they need to afford their medications, George Bush's drug card provides millions of dollars to insurance companies with a history of fraud and abuse against America's consumers" (Knight Ridder/Kansas City Star, 6/15).
Media Fund, a group supporting Kerry, on Monday began an ad campaign in Missouri contending that Bush supports health care policies that "shortchange children, families and the elderly," the Los Angeles Times reports. The campaign, which features a full-page ad in the Kansas City Star and a 60-second companion spot aired on radio programs during the morning rush hour, was planned to coincide with Bush's visit to Missouri. Media Fund officials said Monday that the group has set aside a "large budget" to launch similar targeted campaigns in advance of presidential trips throughout the following months (Anderson, Los Angeles Times, 6/15).
The messages delivered yesterday by the Bush and Kerry campaigns illustrate how "[b]oth sides are trying to capitalize on the new Medicare law as provisions unfold," according to Long Island Newsday (Long Island Newsday, 6/15). Robert Moffit, a health policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, said it is smart for Bush to focus on the discount card program because it provides immediate savings to beneficiaries and could help lower drug prices, the New York Times reports (Stevenson, New York Times, 6/15). Bill McInturff, a Republican pollster, said that Republicans should have focused more aggressively on promoting the $600 subsidy for low-income beneficiaries from the beginning, adding that the "simple message got lost" in the final months of debate over the new Medicare law. Alan Sager, director of the health reform program at the Boston University School of Public Health, said, "The president and many Republicans strongly felt that passing this bill would constitute a major political victory. Right now, it looks like they're wrong." John Whaley, a Democratic pollster, said that the current low enrollment in the drug card program could hurt Republicans in the November elections, but he added that Democrats have been too eager to focus on low enrollment numbers and confusion over the program, according to Newsday (Long Island Newsday, 6/15). Karen Ignagni, president and CEO of America's Health Insurance Plans, said, "When we separate the rhetoric from reality, it becomes very clear the discount cards are an important step toward empowering beneficiaries with choices and savings" (AP/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 6/15).
NPR's "Morning Edition" on Tuesday reported on Bush's Missouri visit and the questions surrounding how the drug discount cards might affect food stamp benefits. The segment includes comments from Bush; Barbara Kennelly, president and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare; and David Super, general counsel at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (Rovner, "Morning Edition," NPR, 6/15). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.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.