John Kerry on the Medicare Drug Plan
Fix Medicare prescription drug law
The Lowell Sun
Senator John F. Kerry
Two years ago, President Bush signed the new Medicare prescription-drug benefit into law amid much hype and fanfare. But now the only cheers are from the special interests. Insurance and pharmaceutical companies are thrilled with their profits, but Massachusetts seniors now attempting to fill their prescriptions are finding nothing more than broken promises.
Seniors know a bad deal when they see it. That’s why Massachusetts seniors and Democrats in Congress joined together to oppose this fatally flawed proposal when it was first introduced on Capitol Hill. Now, we’re reminded that this Bush boondoggle is an even bigger real-life nightmare for seniors than we ever could have imagined. The time has come to renew our efforts to go back to the drawing board, fix this legislation and deliver real relief to seniors.
Medicare was enacted 40 years ago as a promise to the American people that, in exchange for their years of hard work and service to our country, their health care would be guaranteed in their golden years. America’s seniors deserve a comprehensive and affordable health-care system — and that includes a guaranteed, simple and affordable prescription-drug benefit. The Bush prescription-drug plan fails to meet that standard. In fact, the Medicare prescription-drug law does more harm than good. Massachusetts seniors can attest to that.
Seniors were first subjected to the dizzying task of choosing a plan among a slew of competing programs. Yet among the countless pages of confusing information, seniors could not find out the one thing they really wanted to know: Would their drugs be covered under this plan? I know accomplished health professionals who were unable to help their parents navigate the maze of paperwork and regulations.
To make matters worse, seniors are not only locked into the first plan they choose; they face a financial penalty for delaying that choice. Every day my office receives hundreds of calls from nervous, confused and worried seniors — and they have every right to be concerned — their options are incredibly confusing, and the government is burdening them with unnecessary pressure on their time and finances.
Even the seniors lucky enough to make sense of this new plan understand that this prescription benefit was falsely advertised. They realize this law, despite all the promises, uses a series of holes in coverage and complex rules to provide shockingly skimpy benefits. Now that we’re seeing the results, our worst fears have been confirmed: wide gaps in coverage, seniors being forced into HMO-style plans, and no price controls. Eventually, elements of this law may even lead to the privatization of Medicare.
Our seniors deserve better than this. If Republicans in Congress are unwilling to scrap Part D altogether and start over, we must at least perform some major surgery on the current law. To begin, we must:
* Simplify the rules, streamline choices, require more transparency, and extend deadlines for making decisions about coverage options.
* Make the benefit comprehensive and end the outrage of charging seniors premiums even after their benefits shut down.
* Restrain double-digit drug price increases and lower out-of-pocket costs for seniors by allowing the federal government to use its bulk purchasing power to negotiate volume discounts on behalf of all beneficiaries.
* Allow for the safe re-importation of affordable prescription drugs from Canada and other industrialized countries.
* Improve the protections for retiree benefits. Millions of seniors are projected to lose their gold-plated retiree prescription-drug plan and be forced into a lesser benefit under the Medicare plan. This is wrong and we must prevent it from happening.
* Cancel the unprecedented $12 billion slush fund to entice private insurance companies to participate in Medicare. If private companies are unwilling engage in fair competition for customers, the federal government should stand ready to offer a plan as a part of its Medicare package. The $12 billion is better used investing in an expanded benefit for seniors than in a massive corporate handout.
Affordable health care is not a privilege for the elected, the connected and the wealthy; it should be a right afforded to all Americans regardless of their background or social standing. The Medicare Modernization Act of 2003 soundly rejects this principle, and we have to pass serious reforms now to repair this program before it becomes entrenched. Our goal should be nothing more and nothing less than assuring that a Medicare prescription drug plan actually does what it’s supposed to do: conveniently provide affordable prescription drugs to all seniors.