MEDICARE MODERNIZATION ACT -- (House of Representatives - March 30, 2004)
The SPEAKER pro tempore. Under a previous order of the House, the gentleman from Virginia (Mr. Cantor) is recognized for 5 minutes.
Mr. CANTOR. Mr. Speaker, I am here tonight to talk about the Medicare Modernization Act, the reform bill that was passed by this body back in December.
I think the first question to ask is, who remembers what they were driving in 1960 or perhaps what a parent was driving in 1960? One of the most popular cars at that time was a Rambler; and if one thinks about the options available and the safety features in that car, we would really be amazed at how far we have come. There were no seat belts. There were no air bags. There were no GPS systems. There was just a lot different with vehicular travel back then.
And I think it is a wonderful analogy to think about when we are talking about health care in this country. Because Medicare in its inception in the 1960s really has changed very little over the years; and what we have is a situation where our seniors are faced with the same type of options, the same menu of services that they have had over the last 40 years. That is why we needed to pass the Medicare reform bill, and that we did.
The bill provides, I think, seniors with access to choices in health care, with easier access to health care, and it also provides immediate relief for the rising need for access in prescription drugs.
Under the Medicare Modernization Act, seniors have a choice. First of all, when we are talking about the prescription drug program, that program is completely voluntary.
It is voluntary, and seniors in my district, some of whom have existing coverage, will not have to participate in the program. It is not a one-size-fits-all-type program. The design of the bill is to give seniors choices to better fit their families' needs as far as prescription drugs are concerned. So seniors have a choice whether they are going to sign up for the prescription drug coverage.
Also, if you look at the larger body of the bill and look at the choices that the seniors will have, they can actually now have a choice of the type of health insurance coverage that they access. Much like we do here in Congress, they have a decision to make about which plan bests fit their medical need. It puts seniors back into the driver's seat.
One of the, I think, most interesting parts of the bill is we really tried to improve the quality of health care that seniors can receive, much like many in the private sector enjoy today, much like we here as Members of Congress enjoy. We enjoy improved quality of care through accessing preemptive health care screenings. So in the Medicare bill, we included new screenings, diabetic screenings, blood screenings to detect cardiovascular disease. These are tests that are indicative of disease and have a broad array of applications. Medicare participants will now have access to these screenings.
Also, we put in a provision for a free physical for the new entrants to Medicare. There is also now a provision which allows seniors to access a disease management function. I know a lot of us know senior citizens who deal with a lot of specialists, and sometimes those specialists do not talk to one another. Well, this disease management function, while voluntary and optional, will and may help many of our senior citizens.
Also in the Medicare Modernization Act, we try to deal with the very pressing problem of low-income seniors, and we gave help to those who need it; and any senior who falls within 135 percent of the poverty level will now pay very little as far as their health care coverage and certainly as far as prescription drugs. Essentially, their drug bills will be eliminated.
I think the final version of this bill did include a provision which allowed for the creation of health savings accounts, I think something that is revolutionary and will, once again, put the spotlight back on the doctor/patient relationship and putting the seniors back into the driver's seat as far as which type of health care that they can access, and it also ensures that the seniors themselves can make their medical decisions without the intervention of a third party that may not be familiar with the particular health of that senior.
So, Mr. Speaker, I am here tonight to make sure that we in this body realize that we have gone and taken the first step toward modernizing health care for seniors. We have given them choice. We have given them hope for a discount on their prescription drug bills. This June, there will be the introduction of discount cards that will afford seniors up to 50 percent of a discount on the cost of prescription drugs. So there is immediate relief that our seniors across the Nation will experience.