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Senator Maria Cantwell's Weekly Update for Washington State

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Senator Maria Cantwell's Weekly Update for Washington State

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Demanding Help for Seniors Left Behind by the New Medicare Drug Program

After visiting Washington pharmacies last week, it's clear to me that the most vulnerable of our citizens, those with chronic conditions, mental illness, and those with very low incomes, continue to be left behind by the Medicare Prescription Drug program and the Bush Administration. Patients around the country are scrambling to find ways to get the medicine they need in the wake of the new prescription drug plan's haphazard implementation, and many pharmacists are absorbing the cost of giving medicine to these desperate customers themselves.

Seniors eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid are often those with chronic illnesses and the lowest incomes. These "dual eligibles" were automatically assigned to drug plans based on zip code with no regard for which plan would actually fit them best. Dual eligibles who decide to switch plans are not covered by the new plan until the first day of the following month, leaving many without access to medications for as long as 30 days. In many cases, dual eligibles have encountered higher premiums and problems changing plans, which often results in them leaving the pharmacy empty-handed.

We cannot sit by and pretend the new Medicare prescription drug program is working when the seniors who need help most are forced to go without life-saving drugs. This weekend I read that the Administration was requiring Prescription Drug Plans to honor their obligation to provide a 30-day supply of medication to dual eligibles. What I didn't hear, however, was how this is going to be implemented in the thousands of pharmacies across the country. Prescription Drug Plans were already required to provide a 30-day supply and yet this wasn't being done. We clearly must do better and must give seniors the care they were promised. My thanks and appreciation goes out to the pharmacists, providers, volunteers, and community members who continue working around the clock to help seniors navigate this muddled program.

Helping Working Families Save at the Gas Pump

Today's new car window stickers typically inflate a vehicles' true fuel economy performance by anywhere from 10 percent to 30 percent. That's because the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the agency that comes up with these figures, uses the same test procedures they used in the 1970s, which among other things, assumes people drive 48 miles per hour on the freeway and never use their air conditioners. I'm pleased to report that last week the EPA took an important step toward creating new test procedures that better mimic real life driving conditions. This should result in more accurate fuel economy window stickers. The EPA proposal, which mirrors legislation I introduced last year that successfully passed the Senate but ultimately did not become law, would take into account factors such as higher speed limits, more rapid acceleration, use of air conditioning, and cold temperature operation. The proposal would put in place the first revision in two decades to the standards used to determining fuel economy ratings. Hopefully, with this fix, consumers can make more informed vehicle purchasing decisions that could potentially save them hundreds of dollars on gasoline each year.

Protecting Mail Order Brides from Abuse and Exploitation

On January 5, President Bush signed into law the International Marriage Broker Regulation Act as part of the Violence Against Women Act of 2005. This law, which I sponsored, builds on past lessons, putting in place vital safeguards to protect women from abuse and exploitation. Under current practice, American clients can get all the information they want about foreign fiancées, while foreign fiancées only receive the information that the men choose to share and have no way to confirm what they are told. The new law will provide to foreign fiancées information about the marital and violent criminal history of their prospective American husbands. The foreign fiancée will also receive information about the rights and resources available to domestic violence victims in the United States . Foreign-born fiancées deserve to know about their rights here in the United States , and need to know whether their potential spouse has a history of violent crime. The murders of two young women in Washington state, Susanna Blackwell from the Philippines , and Anastasia King from Kyrgyzstan , by husbands they met through mail order bride agencies prompted the Washington state legislature to adopt legislation regulating the international marriage broker industry. Now, we've put in place similar legislation at the federal level to give foreign fiancées additional resources to help them decide whether they are entering into a safe situation.

Honoring the Legacy of Martin Luther King

This weekend , we celebrated Martin Luther King and honored his legacy. With great passion, Dr. King confronted hate, spoke of hope, and transformed America . Through direct action, penetrating vision, and bold leadership, he forced our nation and its people to acknowledge injustice. Upon accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, Dr. King said, "I believe that what self-centered men have torn down, men other-centered can build up." Today, we must build up new sources of hope. Made strong by the diversity of our nation, we must work together to invest in tomorrow. We must write a new economic story that creates opportunity for all Americans. We must stand up for social justice, equality, and the most basic rights. We must provide a high-quality education for all of our young people, and high-quality health care for all of our families. We must confront the poverty, corruption, and violence that betray the basic foundation of this nation. That is our tribute to Dr. King, our obligation to one another, and our duty to future generations.

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