Medicare prescription drug cards
Friday, June 18, 2004
The following letter to the editor by House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi appeared today in The Washington Times:
In your June 9 editorial "Safeguarding a Medicare benefit," you incorrectly say that I have "encouraged seniors not to accept" drug discount cards.
I certainly have pointed out that many seniors will not find prices any lower than those already available at Internet pharmacies and at discounters such as Costco. The House Government Reform Committee, the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, and other organizations have reached the same conclusion.
However, I have been equally clear that Medicare beneficiaries who have low incomes and few assets - and are not on Medicaid, Tricare or the federal employee health plan - could benefit from the subsidy available with the cards. In fact, I am an original cosponsor of a Democratic bill to automatically enroll all low-income seniors in the Medicare Transitional Assistance program, which would ensure that about 700,000 low-income seniors would receive $600 per year in prescription-drug assistance.
Democrats have raised concerns about the new discount cards because they give big drug and insurance companies sole control over what discounts seniors and the disabled will get and how much they will pay. Seniors are allowed to change cards only once a year, while sponsors can change which drugs they cover and what discounts they offer every week. Also, because drug companies have been raising their prices in advance of the cards' debut, the new "discounts" may accomplish nothing more than to bring costs down to where they were before.
These are serious shortcomings. Reimportation of safe drugs, coupled with legislation giving the secretary of Health and Human Services the authority to negotiate discounts on behalf of Medicare's 40 million beneficiaries, would be a much more effective way to lower prescription-drug prices for American consumers.
In the longer run, we should reject provisions such as so-called "competitive bidding" that would lead to the unraveling of Medicare.