Wednesday, May 17, 2006

What a Difference an Even-Numbered Year Makes

Midnight, May 15 was the absolute and final cut-off date for signing up for Medicare Part D, the prescription drug programs for seniors. The Emperor and his minions in the Congress made it clear that there would be no extensions. Late entrants would just have to pay the penalty fees. It didn't matter that the program was complicated and confusing, nor that the introduction of the program was rife with errors and confusion. A deadline is a deadline. Or, as we see now, a deadline is sort of a deadline. From the NY Times:

A powerful bipartisan group of senators announced on Tuesday that they would push legislation to eliminate the financial penalty for people who sign up late for Medicare's prescription drug benefit.

...Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, chairman of the Finance Committee, and Senator Max Baucus of Montana, the senior Democrat on the panel, initiated the effort to waive the penalty, which amounts to a permanent increase of 7 percent on all future premiums — about $2.50 a month next year.

...Mr. Baucus said, "It's time to cut seniors a little slack." He asserted that the Bush administration had made the program "needlessly complicated" by allowing too many drug plans.

..."It's a policy decision for Congress," said Michael O. Leavitt, the secretary of health and human services. Without seeing final enrollment numbers, Mr. Leavitt said, "it's difficult for anyone to make a clear policy judgment."

Ah, but it's not quite so difficult in some years:

But Republicans running for re-election had no such difficulty. Senators Mike DeWine of Ohio, Jon Kyl of Arizona, Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and Olympia J. Snowe of Maine were co-sponsors of the Senate bill. [Emphasis added]

How cynical is that?

The fact is that while the plan has had some successes, many of those "successes" will be short lived as seniors with medical conditions requiring extensive and expensive medications hit the uninsurable "doughnut hole" where there is no coverage. Many more seniors will find either that they chose the wrong plan, one which does not cover the medications they are currently taking or which will be prescribed after the plan was selected, or that the plan they chose has inexplicably decided to stop including a particular needed drug in the coverage.

The bill, primarily written by Pharma, is a lousy one for seniors, yet the Republican controlled Congress is not interested in re-visiting the bill itself, even if it is an election year. Senators and Representatives instead have preferred a symbolic but generally empty gesture.

They ought to be ashamed. And de-elected.


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