Senator McConnell's Column On The New Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit
One of the miracles of living in America today is the easy availability of powerful, life-saving medicines. Thanks to modern science, those in need now take prescription drugs to treat diseases like cancer, heart disease, or diabetes that would have been fatal just a generation ago.
While these modern wonder drugs save lives, they can sometimes be expensive. High-priced prescription drugs especially hit the wallets of seniors, who often need multiple prescriptions and may live on a fixed income. Until recently, Medicare did not help seniors pay for prescription drugs.
In fact, until now, Medicare would cover doctor and hospital visits for seniors, but not life-saving prescription medicines. Perversely, Medicare would pay more than $100,000 for hospitalization after a heart attack, but not $1,000 a year for the blood-thinning drugs that might prevent that same heart attack.
But now that prescription drugs serve as the first line of defense against heart disease, Alzheimer's, and other ailments, it makes sense that they should be covered by Medicare. So the Congress passed and President George W. Bush signed a law making prescription drug coverage available to all Medicare recipientsthe biggest improvement to Medicare since it was first created in 1965. Fears of huge, out-of-control drug costs should soon become a thing of the past.
The facts about the new benefit are simple.
Anyone on Medicarethose who are 65 or older, and some Americans with disabilitiesis eligible for the new Medicare prescription drug benefit. Everyone who's eligible can apply for the new benefit now. Coverage begins on January 1, 2006, and if you apply before the end of the year, you will be covered on that date.
Seniors who currently have no drug coverage at all can expect to see a savings of at least 50 percent. Coverage will be reliable and affordablein fact, Kentucky seniors will be able to buy plans for as little as $10 a month. And everyone who has the new Medicare prescription drug benefit will be covered against high, catastrophic drug costs.
No one will be forced into a "one size fits all" planevery senior will be free to pick the plan that is right for them. Every plan will cover a broad selection of both generic and name-brand drugs. And participation in the benefit is voluntaryif you already have prescription drug coverage from an employer or elsewhere, you can keep it and change nothing.
Americans with limited incomes will get additional help, and only have to pay very little or nothing at all to enjoy the new benefit, depending on their level of financial need. On average, Medicare will cover more than 95 percent of prescription drug costs for the neediest Medicare beneficiaries.
Seniors who believe the benefit is right for them should enroll before this December 31 to ensure coverage starting on January 1, 2006. This week, as families come together to celebrate Thanksgiving, Kentucky seniors should take the opportunity to discuss their needs with their loved ones and pick the plan that is best for them.
Younger Kentuckians have a role to play, too. If you have a parent, grandparent or relative who is eligible for Medicare, take this holiday week to give them a hand. Talk about which plan will best suit their needs and see if they have any questions.
Anyone who needs help can call Medicare at 1-800-MEDICARE. You or a family member can also go online 24 hours a day to Medicare's official website, www.Medicare.gov.
The turn of the calendar page from 2005 to 2006 will soon usher in not just a new year, but a new peace of mind for millions of Americans. The miracles of modern medicine will remain available and affordable to all thanks to the new Medicare prescription drug benefit. Over this Thanksgiving holiday, please take the time to help yourself or a loved one learn about this wonderful new opportunity and make an informed choice.