Media Contact: Christine Glunz, 202.225.3072
Washington, DC – It is rare when we read an editorial in the Mercury News and find ourselves in such strong disagreement. However, the Nov. 20 editorial advocates in favor of the prescription drug bill that we all oppose.
Despite the $400 billion price tag, the Republican Medicare legislation would leave 6.4 million of the poorest and sickest Medicare beneficiaries who currently receive prescription coverage through Medicaid worse off. Unbelievably, that is just the beginning. This legislation is also not ``paid for'' and will worsen our long-term fiscal problems and substantially increase the deficit.
In the 40 years since Medicare was created, it has been an affordable, defined, guaranteed, and comprehensive health care plan for all senior citizens. Of course, it's still important for Medicare to evolve. With prescription costs rising at a rate of 17 percent per year, a reality never envisioned in the 1960s, we have long fought for adding a prescription drug benefit to Medicare. But this legislation does too little to help control drug costs, requires seniors to spend too much out-of-pocket and compromises many of the basic principles that have made Medicare so valued and effective.
Here are some problems with the bill:
• Not affordable -- With the cost of prescriptions on the rise, an affordable, guaranteed drug benefit is urgently needed. Sadly, the prescription benefit in this bill wouldn't go into effect until 2006. This legislation also bows to drug industry pressures by prohibiting the federal government from negotiating lower drug prices on behalf of America's 40 million Medicare beneficiaries.
• No defined benefits -- This is not a reform bill. It's a bill that allows the privatization of Medicare. Millions of Medicare beneficiaries would be forced to pay more just to stay with their own doctors. Premium support, a provision included in this bill, allows private plans to lure healthy seniors out of Medicare, leaving older and disabled seniors behind to pay higher premiums for the same coverage they're receiving today. Santa Clara County is in one of 41 metropolitan areas that could be selected to participate in this ``demonstration'' that would lead to the privatization of Medicare. Under this plan, benefits, premiums and access to care will change from year to year.
• Not guaranteed -- The bill creates a major gap in coverage by leaving millions of seniors without any drug coverage during parts of the year. Once a senior's drug costs reaches a moderate level of $2,250, all coverage would be cut off, until the out-of-pocket prescription costs rise to a much higher level -- roughly $3,600 -- when coverage kicks back in. It will also erode retiree coverage for 2 to 3 million seniors who, after years of hard work, earned a prescription drug benefit through their retirement plans.
• Not comprehensive -- The bill eliminates Medicare's promise to retirees by arbitrarily limiting the ability of Congress to fund the program. Just as more baby boomers retire and require more physician visits, hospital services and pharmaceutical coverage, Republicans want to limit what can be spent on Medicare by radically changing Medicare's financing system. If general revenue spending exceeds an arbitrary limit of 45 percent of all Medicare spending, Congress must then consider legislation limiting future Medicare spending. If that happens both beneficiaries and providers of services to Medicare beneficiaries will face cuts in services and or reimbursements.
In the end, we are not willing to destroy the fundamental promise of Medicare, a program that seniors and the disabled have known and trusted for nearly 40 years. We will keep fighting for a prescription drug benefit that our seniors demand and deserve.
Democratic Reps. ANNA ESHOO, MIKE HONDA and ZOE LOFGREN represent the 14th, 15th, and 16th Congressional districts, respectively.