Senators Address Medicare Drug Benefit
The Hill on Wednesday published several opinion pieces related to the new Medicare prescription drug benefit. Summaries appear below.
- Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.): The 2003 Medicare law, which created the new drug benefit, "was a step in the right direction," but "[u]nfortunately, [the] benefit has not been properly managed for too many of America's senior citizens -- on a nationwide scale that cannot be ignored," Baucus says. He adds that to date, "CMS' efforts" to address problems "have fallen unacceptably short," and the government must work to create "clearer standards for benefit packages" and better "[c]onsumer protections." Baucus writes, "It's critical that the Medicare drug benefit be implemented correctly and clearly so that it can become the latest in a long line of Medicare successes" (Baucus, The Hill, 2/8).
- Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa): The implementation of the drug benefit has included "real" and "unacceptable" problems -- particularly for dual eligibles, or those eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid -- that "have to be fixed, and fast," but the problems "so far don't lend themselves to a legislative fix," Grassley writes. He adds that most problems to date can be "addressed administratively," and "as the problems are resolved ... beneficiaries will agree the new benefit will bring them better health security in the long run" (Grassley, The Hill, 2/8).
- Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.): "[T]his latest Bush boondoggle is a real-life nightmare for state budgets and, worse, for millions of seniors just looking to fill a needed prescription," Kerry writes, adding, "The time has come to renew our efforts, go back to the drawing board and give our seniors a real prescription drug benefit." If that is not possible, Congress must perform "major surgery" on the existing law by "[s]implify[ing]" the benefit, making it more comprehensive, allowing the federal government to negotiate prices with drug companies, legalizing prescription drug reimportation, improving protections for employer-based retiree benefits and canceling the $12 billion fund to encourage private insurers to participate in the benefit, Kerry writes (Kerry, The Hill, 2/8).
- Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.): "By anyone's standard of measure," the implementation of the drug benefit has resulted in a "crisis," yet "the [Bush] administration continues to operate under a principle of denial -- or even worse, silence," Rockefeller says. He adds that Congress has a "responsibility" to fix the benefit's problems by "correcting" error-filled data exchanges between CMS and private insurers, implementing uniform plan standards, prohibiting the improper use of prior authorizations, limiting plans' ability to "arbitrarily change their formularies, and ensuring additional funding for state health insurance programs (Rockefeller, The Hill, 2/8).