- The Washington Times - Monday, June 14, 2004

LIBERTY, Mo. — With the weeklong remembrance of Ronald Reagan behind him, President Bush restarted his campaign yesterday by telling voters in the key electoral state of Missouri that seniors already are paying less for prescription drugs, thanks to his Medicare reform plan.

Since the prescription discount card program began June 1, about 3.3 million low-income seniors have enrolled. That number is halfway to the administration’s participation target.

Mr. Bush said the “consumer-driven” program can save seniors hundreds or thousands of dollars a year in drug costs.

“This is a program that helps people,” Mr. Bush told an audience of 500 health care workers. “I know you’re thinking this is just another guy from Washington selling you something that is not true. But it is true.”

Yesterday’s visit to this suburb of Kansas City — the president’s fifth stop in Missouri in six months — came as Mr. Bush and Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry were virtually tied in state polls.

Missouri is considered a bellwether state because it has picked the winner of every presidential election since 1972.

Mark McClellan, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said most of the enrollments were automatic through participants’ Medicare coverage.

The point of the president’s appearance, he said, was to publicize the program so seniors know “they can get help right now.”

“These cards have negotiated savings built in from drug manufacturers that are passed on to seniors,” Mr. McClellan said. “And that’s an important reason why seniors can get some savings.”

Mr. Kerry and other Democrats have criticized the president’s plan, saying the program is too complicated.

They also said the Bush administration is blocking the importation of cheaper drugs from Canada.

The Department of Health and Human Services, however, last month reversed course and recommended that Mr. Bush not block legislation that would allow drug reimportation.

The administration sees the drug discount card program — which is effective until the $540 billion prescription drug coverage plan he signed last year takes over in 2006 — as a way to discourage seniors from shopping for cheaper drugs in Canada and neutralize the health care issue, normally a winner for Democrats.

Mr. Bush said enrolling in the program is as easy as calling 1-800/MEDICARE or logging on to the Internet and going to www.medicare.gov.

“People say it’s going to be complicated,” Mr. Bush said. “People don’t want their lives complicated, but there are good savings.”

The program is expected to cost $2.3 billion this year and $2.8 billion next year, Mr. McClellan said.

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