Wednesday, December 27, 2006

My Dog Ate The Report

Conservatives have long maintained that government programs are wasteful and inefficient and the public would be better served if such programs were run by the private sector. That's one of the rationales for outsourcing many government functions, including the Medicare Prescription Plan (Part D). Today we learn in an article in the NY Times that the private sector may be doing an even poorer job than the government in administering the prescription plan.

Some prescription drug plans did not inform Medicare beneficiaries of impending changes in their costs and benefits, as they were required to do, Bush administration officials and Congressional aides said Tuesday.

This could be a serious omission in a program where beneficiaries need accurate information to choose among dozens of competing private plans.

Administration officials have told Congress that they may give these beneficiaries a six-week extension of the open-enrollment period, which ends Sunday. Beneficiaries could use the extra time to compare the options that will be available to them in 2007.

For those Medicare recipients regularly taking prescription medications, the notice of changes is necessary if their medicine has suddenly been dropped by the plan they are currently enrolled in. The problem is, without those notices, those recipients may be locked into a plan for a year that provides them absolutely no benefit. The deadline for choosing a new plan is this coming Sunday.

And the excuses offered for the failure to provide the necessary notices?

Peter L. Ashkenaz, a spokesman for UnitedHealth, said that perhaps 200,000 of its beneficiaries had not received the required notices by the Oct. 31 deadline. Even though people have until Dec. 31 to sign up for a plan, the Bush administration urged them to do so by Dec. 8, to avoid problems at the pharmacy.

Mr. Ashkenaz cited two reasons for the delay. UnitedHealth held back some notices because they included erroneous information that had to be corrected, he said. In addition, he said, a company printing the notices “had a fire that delayed production.”

Oh, please.

The administration needs to announce immediately a six-week extension of the open-enrollment period, and Congress needs to revisit the program and revise it drastically. Among the changes necessary includes negotiated drug prices, the closing of the donut hole, and, now, stiff fines for those insurers who fail to comply with reporting requirements.

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