Senator Maria Cantwell's Weekly Update for Washington State
The Medicare Drug Program Enrollment Deadline is May 15
May 15 marks the enrollment deadline for the new Medicare prescription drug benefit. Seniors who sign up after the deadline will incur penalties that will stay with them for as long as they are enrolled in the Medicare Prescription Drug Program. While I am working with many of my colleagues to extend the enrollment deadline and waive the late enrollment penalty, there is no guarantee that we will succeed. I urge all Washington seniors to consider whether or not the Medicare Prescription Drug Program is right for them this week as to avoid costly late penalties. This new benefit, which began in January, is voluntary and allows participants to choose from a wide variety of Medicare-approved plans with different premiums, deductibles, and co-payments, providing different drug coverage through different pharmacies. Seniors have many options, which means more choices, but it also means those choices are more complicated. It's important to get the details about available plans, discuss your health needs with your family and doctor, and make an informed, confident decision. As you sort through the Medicare drug-benefit and particular plans, it's important to be wary of one-sided information. Rather, seek out independent sources of information, evaluate all options, and contact the State Health Insurance Assistance Program for further assistance at 1-800-562-6900. Washington seniors deserve an effective, reliable Medicare drug benefit, and America's taxpayers deserve an efficient well-managed program. I will continue working in the U.S. Senate to improve and refine Medicare's drug coverage, because together, we can make prescriptions more affordable and accessible while improving seniors' control over their own health care decisions.
Investing in Energy Security
America needs improved fuel efficiency and aggressive investments in alternatives to oil if we want to keep our economy strong and families within their budgets. Achieving energy independence will not be easy, but we simply cannot accept the status quo. To jumpstart the alternative energy industry in our country and provide relief from today's unstable fuel prices, I joined a bipartisan coalition of my Senate colleagues last week to introduce the Enhanced Energy Security and Enhanced Energy Security Tax Incentives Acts. These two bills combine an aggressive package of tax incentives and federal investments to develop new energy technologies, improve vehicle efficiency, enhance energy security, reduce oil imports, and increase the number of alternative fuel stations. We need to aid development in new technologies like lightweight materials for automobiles and plug-in hybrids. We must increase incentives for alternative fuels including loan guarantees for the production of cellulosic ethanol. In addition to creating future solutions for energy shortages, the Enhanced Energy Security bill will require the federal government to save up to 2.5 million barrels of oil per day by 2016 and boost incentives for producers of new fuels and more efficient vehicles. It's time to end the huge tax breaks for big oil, and replace them with new, bipartisan incentives for lightweight, efficient materials and for cars that can run on either ethanol or gasoline.
Getting a Tough Gas Price-Gouging Law on the Books
Last week, the House of Representatives passed an anti gas price-gouging bill that would impose criminal and civil penalties on any company caught price-gouging. The House legislation calls for criminal penalties of up to $150 million for refiners and other wholesalers and $2 million for retailers, but would not ban other forms of market manipulation potentially contributing to today's high gas prices, and would not take effect for up to six months. This is a good step, but I think we can do more. Last November, the Senate voted on a more comprehensive measure I introduced. It received 57 votesshowing that even last fall, there was strong support from both sides of the aisle for delivering real consumer protections. I hope the Senate will take up a stronger and more immediate version than the House, and do it before the summer driving season begins in earnest on Memorial Day. Consumers need the confidence that federal and state authorities have all the power they need to hold the oil industry accountable this summer.