Two House Members Propose Deadline Extension for Enrollment in Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit
Reps. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) and Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) have introduced a bill (HR 3861) that would extend from May 15, 2006, until Dec. 31, 2006, the deadline for beneficiaries to enroll in the Medicare prescription drug benefit without financial penalties, CQ HealthBeat reports. In addition, the bill would allow beneficiaries to make a one-time change in their enrollment plan during 2006 and would prohibit beneficiaries' former employers from dropping retiree health benefits during the first year of the drug benefit.
In a news release, Stark and Schakowsky said beneficiaries need more time to consider their options under the drug benefit. Stark said the bill would "provide beneficiaries extra protections during the first year of this complex new program so that they won't feel pressured into making a bad choice."
Schakowsky said, "Senior citizens and people with disabilities will soon be inundated by marketers and have to sort through 40 to 50 plans without the support of independent counselors. That's why we need this bill" (CQ HealthBeat, 9/23).
According to the Los Angeles Times, some Republicans have suggested delaying implementation of the entire Medicare drug benefit to offset the cost of recovery from Hurricane Katrina (Alonso-Zaldivar/Vrana, Los Angeles Times, 9/24). The Republican Study Committee, which has proposed delaying the benefit for one year, estimates such a move could save $31 billion (Mussenden, Media General/Richmond Times-Dispatch, 9/24).
"We have rescinded spending in the past," Rep. Gil Gutknecht (R-Minn.) said, adding, "We have to make decisions about whether we can really afford this huge new entitlement" (Los Angeles Times, 9/24).
However, McClellan "brushed aside" such suggestions, CongressDaily reports (Heil, CongressDaily, 9/23). He said Medicare beneficiaries "have waited too long for coverage that is up to date. They have waited too long for coverage that can help them stay well and help keep their costs down, and help keep Medicare's costs down, so this benefit is going forward nationwide" (Freking, AP/Long Island Newsday, 9/23).
Jack Rodgers, a health economist at PricewaterhouseCoopers, said, "It sounds easy to postpone it for a year, but a lot of advance planning has taken place, and that's a big issue. It would create an emergency of its own -- a bit of a Katrina -- to say, 'Let's not do this next year'" (Los Angeles Times, 9/24).
Additional information on the Medicare drug benefit is available online.