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The Medicare Modernization Act by U.S. Representative Kenny Hulshof

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The Medicare Modernization Act by U.S. Representative Kenny Hulshof
Columbia Business Times

For decades, the cost of prescription drugs have become so expensive that many of our nation's seniors are unable to afford their daily medicine. Since Medicare's inception, the face of medicine has changed, however the benefits for prescription drugs have not.

There's a sentiment in Washington, DC that if members of Congress on both sides of the political aisle lodge objections to a bill, that's a sign it may be a pretty good piece of legislation. That certainly seems to be the case with the recently passed Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003.

My colleagues on the left felt it didn't go far enough. They complain that some seniors will 'fall through the cracks' and that out-of-pocket expenses will be too high. Some hard-line conservatives argue this new entitlement is too large, and in many cases, unneeded.

I believe that the final result is a good one because it provides the relief many seniors desperately need, while also introducing key reforms.

For decades, the cost of prescription drugs has become so expensive that many of our nation's seniors are unable to afford their daily medicine. Since Medicare's inception, the face of medicine has changed, however the benefits for prescription drugs have not. It is time to strengthen Medicare to meet the needs of America's families, including those who are burdened with having to help elderly relatives afford medication when they themselves are working to try to make ends meet. This problem is not exclusive to those who receive Medicare benefits, it is an issue for all Americans of all age groups throughout the country.

Here is what the bipartisan agreement will mean to Missouri:

All of the 888,126 beneficiaries will now have access to a Medicare prescription drug plan beginning in January 2006.
Within six months, Missouri residents will be eligible for Medicare-approved prescription drug discount cards, which will provide them with savings of between 10 and 25 percent off the retail price of drugs.

Beneficiaries with incomes of less than $12,123 ($16,362 for couples) who lack prescription drug coverage will get up to $600 in annual assistance to help them afford their medicines, along with the discount card. That's a total of $208,343,220 in additional help for 173,619 Missouri residents in 2004 and 2005.

Medicare, instead of the state-run Medicaid, will now assume the prescription drug costs of 144,468 Missouri beneficiaries who are eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid. This will save Missouri $658 million over eight years on prescription drug coverage for its Medicaid population.

But this bill isn't just about how much money we'll be spending on seniors. It's also about meaningful reforms to our Medicare system. Some of those reforms include:

Health savings accounts, which will allow Americans to establish tax-free savings accounts for health costs.

Much broader choices for patients including managed care, PPOs and fee-for-service. · A renewed focus on preventative care.

Incentives for hospitals to report on quality outcomes so people can make informed choices about where they go for care. · Private health plans will compete for seniors' business by providing better coverage at affordable prices - helping to control the costs of Medicare by using marketplace competition, not government price-setting.

This private sector competition will result in more innovation and flexibility in coverage. This will be a significant improvement over the way benefits are provided in Medicare today - where politicians and bureaucrats, rather than health care markets, dictate what is covered and what is paid.

Private employers will receive incentives to continue to provide drug coverage to their retirees.

Those who argue for repeal of this bill fail to understand that low-income seniors would be penalized the most. An elderly couple making around $18,000 per year will see their medicine bills drop dramatically. Specifically, they'll only have to pay a $50 yearly deductible and their co-pays on many popular medicines will be as low as $1.

And again, all of this is optional. No one is forced to take advantage of these changes. For five years Congress has attempted to reform Medicare and find a prescription drug plan that enables our nation's seniors and their families to rest assured. Although some of my colleagues on both ends of the political spectrum may disagree, I think we've crafted a reasonable compromise.

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