Sunday, November 30, 2003

Medicare bill is a good compromise

For a bill that adds more than $400 billion to Medicare and creates a new entitlement for seniors, the Medicare drug benefit plan Congress passed last week is taking more than its share of lumps. Critics should back off and give it a second look.

Seniors, already skeptical about medical plans, are worried about losing benefits. Media reports have focused on what it doesn't cover, not what it adds - or that it is voluntary.

Sen. Ted Kennedy, leading the charge for Democrats who have long advocated such a benefit, calls the complex, GOP-crafted plan a plot to "destroy Medicare." Not true. It is, rather, a classic compromise - not the $1 trillion, all-government plan Kennedy wanted, but not the modest, free-market solution Republicans favored either.

"The legislation is not perfect, but it is progress," Rep. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, a top congressional liaison with the White House, told the Enquirer editorial board. "The bill has been crafted for the two groups who need it most - low-income seniors and those who face catastrophically high drug costs."

Some details:

• Starting in January, a Medicare drug card will provide prescription discounts of 10 percent to 25 percent.

• Starting in 2006, for a $35 monthly premium and $250 yearly deductible, Medicare will pay 75 percent of prescription costs up to $2,250. Since a typical senior spends $1,285 a year on prescriptions, most will stay under the limit.

• Low-income seniors, who make up 35 percent of the nation's seniors (more like 40 percent in our area, Portman said), get a $600 annual subsidy with their cards, then in 2006 get drug coverage with no or reduced premiums, deductibles and co-pays, depending on income.

• For all seniors, Medicare will pay 95 percent of all drug costs over $3,600 a year.

The plan doesn't provide free prescriptions for all seniors, but it provides drug coverage for millions where there was none before. Congress probably will make some adjustments before the drug plan starts in 2006. But as we argued in urging lawmakers to pass it, the bill will help control soaring costs. It will foster competition, allow Americans to save tax-free for medical expenses, increase plan choices for consumers, bring generic drugs into the market sooner, encourage preventive medicine and ease the states' crushing Medicaid/Medicare burden. It deserves a chance to work.

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Medicare bill is a good compromise
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Con: It's a cynical blueprint to kill program

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