NEW MEDICARE CARD PROGRAM BEGINS-Andrew Stelzer

06/01/04

The Center for American Progress today released a new report showing that 20 of the 73 companies that the White House approved to participate in the so called “Medicare discount� program have been involved in federal/state fraud charges. These same 20 companies have significant ties to the Bush Administration. The report, entitled "Paying to Play," also finds that those 20 companies involved in fraud charges gave more than $3 million to the President and conservatives in Congress since the 2000 election cycle; seven of the President's "Pioneers�, who raised $100,000 or more for Bush campaign work at companies approved for the program, and three of the seven Pioneers are linked to companies approved for the card program, even though their companies were involved in fraud.

Today is the first day that eligible seniors can use the new prescription drug cards. In what is seen as the first major test of the new Medicare law, the bush administration has said the new program will save low-income seniors money on necessary medication. But enrollment has been much lower than expected. And many consumer groups and healthcare professionals like retired pharmacist Fred Williams are calling the program a moneymaking scheme orchestrated by the pharmaceutical companies.

ACT “Quit referring to this as a discount card…�

The drug card program is a dry run for the Medicare drug benefit that starts in January 2006, when Medicare recipients will be entitled to outpatient drug coverage. About 2.3 million of the 4.5 million people in Medicare health maintenance organizations will receive cards automatically, without filing applications. But it appears that fewer than one million people in the traditional fee-for-service Medicare program have signed up for cards. Even many Republicans, seniors' groups and private card sponsors acknowledge that the enrollment process, which requires seniors to choose from among 40 national cards and some of the 33 regional ones, is complex and confusing. Becky Martin from the Florida Consumer Action network agrees.

ACT ‘I have talked to many many seniors and none are signing up for the card. The have been able to analyse…

Bush administration officials say the drug discount card would save Medicare-eligible residents from 10 percent to 18 percent on brand-name drugs and from 30 percent to 60 percent on generics until 2006, when the government's Medicare prescription drug subsidy kicks in. But there is skepticism that more than a few seniors will save any money using the new cards, because prices are subject to change week by week, individual drugs can be taken on and off cards, and seniors will only be able to change their card once a year.. FCAN has conducted a cost analysis of three drugs that are widely used by seniors. The price of zocor is 32 dollars higher with the new Medicare card, than its costs for those covered by the veterans administration. The price of Prevacid is 40 dollars higher than the VA, and the cost of Lipitor is 35 dollars more. The big difference is that the VA is able to negotiate with the drug companies for low prices, while the Medicare program is not.

ACT ‘Changing the law so people cant get drugs from Canada is not the answer, we need to change the laws…discounts�

The A-A-R-P who was supportive of the plan as it was being put together and promoted by the bush administration, says its subscription number is minuscule -- 400 enrolled despite sending out 26-thousand enrollment kits. The organization is now expressing concern about how seniors will get the proper information about what plan is best for them. They have set up a hotline to help seniors through the process.

ACT “AARP got a huge grant. I don’t trust em, keep in mind they are an insurance company..they are looking after their own difference..they could have done a lot to help the public.�

There is a movement among some members of congress to repeal the Medicare reform law, but according to Bill Newton, executive director of FCAN, there is not support among lawmakers to make that happen. Instead, Newton suggests citizens find out who supported the plan and contact them to ask for changes to the system.

ACT “Bilirakis received many contributions from the pharm industry, if you are a pharmaceutical company he’s the go to guy…people need to understand that this is a Republican Party thing..�

Information about what Medicare card may be best for you call (800) 633-4227 or go to www.medicare.gov.

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