As congress returns to Washington next week, one issue that may rise near the top of their agenda is the new Medicare part D prescription drug plan. The plan, instituted January 1st, has been a minor disaster in many parts of the country, with a confusing number of plans to choose from, long waits on the phone, and has been criticized for the donut hole, where after the first 2,250 dollars, Medicare recipients will have to pay out of their own pocket for the next 2,850 dollars worth of medicine they receive. With a May 15th deadline looming for people to choose a drug plan, or face penalties, several advocacy groups are joining with members of congress to call for an extension of the deadline and a fix for part d.

ACT-Stabenow “From every angle this is a disaster, and it needs to be fixed.�

Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan says she has received a constant stream of complaints from her constituents who are confused by the part d drug plan, ranging from busy signals, plans getting changed on people after they sign up, to pharmacies that cant get through on the phone, and some which have to choose between refusing their customers life saving medicine and giving in to them and going out of business because Medicaid is refusing to reimburse them.

ACT- Stabenow “Right now we have more than 70 plans in Michigan, people are worried about May 15th, while they are trying to figure out what it means

Stabenow has joined with Senators Bill Nelson and Olympia Snow and 45 senators, and send a letter to Senate Majority leader Bill Frist, asking him to extend the deadline. 15 million Medicare recipients haven’t signed up for part D, which Senator Stabenow says shows that they simply want to be able to use their Medicaid card to get drugs and not go through a complicated process. Meanwhile, Brad Woodhouse with Americans United, says they have already been targeting members of congress like Florida representative Mike Bilirakis to take action to begin to fix the new prescription drug plan, and they plant to step up the campaign in the lead up to May 15th.

ACT-Brad “President Bush has said he can’t do it, Leavitt said he wont do it, so we are focusing on congress.�

Earlier this week, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services said they would extend deadline for very low-income seniors, but Wood house says that’s not enough.

ACT-Brad “If they don’t sign up, they will get a &% penalty, that’s for life..’

After May 15th, people are locked into the plan which they choose for the next year, even though the companies can change which drugs are covered and the prices. California Representative Pete Stark is the ranking democrat on the house ways and means health sub-committee.

ACT-Stark “Secretary Leavitt's own parents signed up for the wrong plan, and he had special powers to change it..�

When asked to explain several polls that have found people who have successfully signed up for part D have been satisfied, Senator Stark said that as of now they are in the early stages, but once those people hit the donut hole, meaning a gap in coverage when they will have to pay out of their own pocket for several thousand dollars, they wont be so satisfied. Stark says although he voted against the bill initially, he doesn’t want to see it repealed, and he is willing to let Health and Human Services secretary Mike Leavitt make the changes administratively.

ACT-Stark “If congress…that will be 360 million, that’s out of a trillion…that means people will pay lower penalties, so there is no cost to drug companies, gets more people to sign up.�

When the part d legislation passed, it was only by one vote, after a 3-hour extension during which time house republican leaders promised favors to their fellow republicans members in exchange for their votes. Stabenow says it’s those same interests, which are keeping reform of part D from happening.

ACT-Stabenow ‘What we see is folks very close to the pharmaceutical industry and they wont change until they hear from their constituents..’

A Bill introduced by Representative Stark and Illinois democrat Jan Schakowsky also includes a plan to allow the importation of drugs from overseas. Even if that doesn’t pass, Stark says he believe some changes will come before this years elections, or it will not bode well for Republicans who supported the presidents bill.

ACT-stark “They don’t want to see this bill lost, that would be egg on their faces..come November�

For more information about the campaign to extend the Medicare prescription drug deadline, log onto

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