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Stabenow, Colleagues, Make Bipartisan Call to Extend Medicare Deadline

Location: Washington, DC

Stabenow, Colleagues, Make Bipartisan Call to Extend Medicare Deadline

Bipartisan letter also calls for elimination of financial penalties for seniors

U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), with a bipartisan group of 46 senators, today sent a letter to President Bush urging him to give seniors and people with disabilities more time to choose a Medicare prescription drug plan. Medicare beneficiaries have faced a number of problems when trying to enroll, including incorrect information in the Medicare handbooks, Web site errors, and busy signals when calling the Medicare helpline. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported last week that one-third of all calls to the helpline were either unanswered or answered with inaccurate or incomplete information.

"People should not be penalized because the government can't get its act together," said Stabenow. "Extending the enrollment deadline to the end of the year is a simple step that could help many Americans to make the decision right for them, their families, and their health."

The full text of the letter follows:

May 11, 2006

The President
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President:

Across the country, over 40 million Medicare beneficiaries have been presented with the choice of signing up for the Medicare prescription drug program. Unfortunately, many seniors and individuals with disabilities are understandably concerned and confused about the new benefit.

Beneficiaries face a number of prescription drug plan options, and choosing the right plan can be a challenge. Each of the options differs in terms of premiums, cost-sharing requirements, drugs covered and pharmacy access. Sorting through these plans has proven to be difficult and time consuming for many beneficiaries. Further complicating matters, the Medicare drug program has experienced a variety of implementation problems that have disproportionately affected the most vulnerable beneficiaries.

Yet, beneficiaries who do not act by the May 15, 2006, deadline and who enroll at a later date will face a financial penalty. Seniors who choose a plan after May 15, 2006, will be penalized by a one percent increase in their premium for each month they delay their choice.

We are writing to request that you direct Secretary Leavitt to extend the enrollment deadline through the end of the year, and eliminate the financial penalty during this period.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has estimated that an additional 1.1 million beneficiaries would sign up for the Medicare prescription drug program during this year if the May 15th deadline was extended. In addition, they calculate that eliminating the penalty for this year would ultimately lower premiums for 7.5 million beneficiaries.

Since Congress has not yet passed legislation expanding the existing six-month open enrollment period, we urge you to take action. The stakes here are too high to deny seniors the time and resources they need to make an informed decision.

Secretary Leavitt has already extended the enrollment deadline for some low-income beneficiaries and hurricane Katrina evacuees. We believe the Secretary has the legal authority to provide the same benefit to all Medicare beneficiaries.

We all share the goal of ensuring that Medicare beneficiaries have sufficient time and assistance to make a wise decision regarding prescription drug coverage. We respectfully urge you to announce your intention to delay both the enrollment deadline and penalty as soon as possible.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter.


Senators Akaka (D-HI), Bayh (D-IN), Ben Nelson (D-NE), Biden (D-DE), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Bingaman (D-NM), Boxer (D-CA), Byrd (D-WV), Cantwell (D-WA), Carper (D-DE), Clinton (D-NY), Collins (R-ME), Conrad (D-ND), Dayton (D-MN), DeWine (R-OH), Dodd (D-CT), Dorgan (D-ND), Durbin (D-IL), Feingold (D-WI), Feinstein (D-CA), Harkin (D-IA), Inouye (D-HI), Jeffords (I-VT), Johnson (D-SD), Kennedy (D-MA), Kerry (D-MA), Kohl (D-WI), Landrieu (D-LA), Lautenberg (D-NJ), Leahy (D-VT), Levin (D-MI), Lieberman (D-CT), Lincoln (D-AR), Menendez (D-NJ), Mikulski (D-MD), Murray (D-WA), Obama (D-IL), Pryor (D-AR), Reed (D-RI), Reid (D-NV), Rockefeller (D-WV), Salazar (D-CO), Sarbanes (D-MD), Schumer (D-NY), Specter (R-PA), Stabenow (D-MI), and Wyden (D-OR).

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