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MEDICARE: Program Is Providing Real Benefit

Location: Washington, DC

MEDICARE: Program Is Providing Real Benefit

First Appeared in Roll Call's Policy Briefing on the "Health of Our Nation"

Washington, Mar 13

Despite the naysayers, there are 22,084,710 reasons why the new Medicare prescription drug program is working for America. As of Feb. 11, that is the exact number of seniors that had already signed up for the new voluntary benefit.

Politicians sometimes forget that there are real folks outside of Washington, D.C. They lose touch with reality and play petty political games by grandstanding and sniping. But this year's debate about the success of Medicare has been changed by the simple fact that it is working.

In fact, despite the Democratic-coordinated campaign of confusion, seniors who have signed up now are spreading the good news that the program is very real and providing a very real benefit. Whether Democrats like it or not, they can't stop the good news about this program from spreading.

According to data released by the Health and Human Services Department in February, more than 51 percent of Medicare-eligible seniors already have signed up for the program. And independent analysts predict that nearly 75 percent of Medicare-eligible seniors will sign up in the program's first year alone.

There are terms used in marketing to describe this exponential growth phenomenon: "buzz" and "word of mouth."

I have a story for you. At Rose and Myrlene's weekly game of bridge, they chat about life, their grandchildren and even their prescription drugs. The one thing they don't seem to care too much about is the political debate that goes on inside the Beltway.

In January, Rose invested time in learning about the new Medicare prescription drug program.

She asked her grandson to help her navigate the Medicare Web site on the computer to find the program that would be best for her. She asked her local pharmacist down the street for help. She may have even stopped by one of the town hall meetings being held by her local Congressman and Medicare experts.

Having found what she was looking for, Rose signed up for the program. And you know what happened? A month later, Rose is saving a little bit more money on her prescription drugs, giving her peace of mind that America hasn't forgot about her. The simple fact is that she no longer has to shoulder the high cost of prescription drugs on her own. America was there to help when it said it would, and Rose now has a little bit more jingle in her pocket to spend how she wants to spend it.

So what do you think Rose and Myrlene talked about at their next scheduled game of bridge? Exactly. The program's success is its buzz factor.

There's a reason why Republican Members of Congress have been promoting this program and working hard in our districts to help our constituents cut through the confusion of this program. It's probably the same reason why the AARP endorsed this program when it passed in 2003 and why the bill was bipartisan.

By the end of this month, my office will have held 48 town hall meetings to help seniors figure out how to sign up for the program and choose the plan that is best for them. We have invested time to learn the ins and outs of the program because we want to be a part of the solution, not the problem.

What I cannot understand is why Congressional Democrats are trying to make life more difficult for seniors. Facts are facts, and the fact is that most seniors will save at least 20 percent and as much as 50 percent or more on their monthly prescription bills.

Fortunately for Rose and Myrlene, the success of the program has not been limited to Republican Congressional districts.

In fact, at a recent town hall meeting held by Virginia Democratic Rep. Jim Moran, a senior, Frances Turner, stood up and thanked the Congressman for the new program which has changed her life.

The Democratic scare game is up. This program is working and would be working even better if Democrats would set down their partisan hats, pick up an informational brochure about the program and help people like Rose sign up.

An e-mail a constituent wrote to my office sums it up nicely. She wrote, "Although I am computer literate and had done some research to help my mother, I felt tremendously relieved after attending the workshop, and I know my mother did, too. That peace of mind was worth more than I can say."

Rose is just one of Medicare's 22,084,710 older Americans who already have signed up for the Medicare benefit and are helping drive the program's success by touting the program. There are 20,285,418 more to go and I am hopeful that my colleagues will help those seniors get the same piece of mind that Rose now enjoys.

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