- The Washington Times - Monday, March 6, 2006

No ‘regime change’ moves against Iran

Ilan Berman argues that the one surefire way to eliminate the threat of an atomic Iran is for Washington policy-makers to incite a regime change. (“Pre-empting Iran’s ambitions,” Op-Ed, Friday). Apparently, we did not learn our lesson when we overthrew Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953.

Unless America wants to risk another violent Iranian revolution and a repeat of events similar to the Iranian hostage crisis, policy-makers should not directly intervene in the domestic politics of Iran. America simply cannot afford to take the risks that are involved in an overt regime change.

Fortunately, America may not have to do anything for political power to change hands. This year, new members will be elected to the Assembly of Experts.

This forum, according to the Iranian Constitution, elects the spiritual leader and supervises his activities. Moderate and progressive clerics stand an excellent chance of gaining seats in this predominantly conservative forum. Though this may not directly result in Mahmoud Ahmadinejad losing his presidential seat, it would drastically reduce his influence and perhaps even moderate his radical views.

Iranians may have a high measure of appreciation for American culture, but they also have a high degree of mistrust of American policies. Open, direct support for a regime change would have the same effect as a military strike: It would increase the nationalist sentiment within the Islamic republic and tighten the current regime’s hold on power. Furthermore, it likely would speed up the production of a nuclear bomb.

The State Department should continue its role of disseminating truthful information to the Iranian people — but that should be the limit of our involvement. Anything more risks helping Iran rally around the flag in opposition to America. Inciting a coup should be considered only when America and American lives are directly at risk.

PHILLIP RIESE

Research assistant

National Defense Council Foundation

Alexandria

For the record, on Medicare

Dan K. Thomasson’s “Prescription for costs, red tape” (Commentary, Wednesday) had a number of factual inaccuracies that would mislead people who could benefit from the prescription drug program. Mr. Thomasson’s estimate of the overall cost of the program is off-base. He makes a contention about a cost of the prescription drug program that runs contrary to what the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) estimates and wrongly inflates the projected cost exponentially.

What the writer doesn’t mention is that competition among Medicare prescription drug plans is working. CMS recently announced that the cost of the program is 20 percent lower than previous estimates, reducing spending on Part D by $8 billion in 2006 alone. In addition, beneficiary premiums are expected to average $25 per month, down from $37 per month. That means an average premium payment for beneficiaries is actually half of the original estimate. That’s quite a benefit to seniors in my state, who will have more money in their pockets.

His second mischaracterization is that “untold numbers have opted not to be covered” because they have found the options too difficult. Let’s be solution-oriented in this process and not misstate the facts for the sake of being pessimistic. One of the functions of the media in this country is to help people help themselves. How are these numbers “untold”? Seniors have until May 15 to sign up for a plan, so the idea that people already have “opted out” when they still have more than two months to enroll is defeatist and a disservice to the people of this country. Of course, we cannot and should not ignore or shy away from discussing the difficulties experienced by some beneficiaries. The initial stages of program implementation have run into some disappointing and frustrating problems. We need to fix these issues and fix them quickly.

The Republican leadership and the Senate Finance Committee — of which I am a member — have been working in good faith with the Bush administration to identify what is working, what is not and find reasonable solutions to ensure that folks get access to the benefits they deserve. Many people in Wyoming have told me they have found enrolling to be a straightforward process and that they are satisfied with the new drug benefit. To suggest that not a single person is benefiting from the new program is disingenuous, partisan and simply not true.

Another false claim is that “seniors at the lowest end of the economic scale aren’t cashing in.” In fact, all low-income seniors who once received prescription coverage through Medicaid are covered by the Medicare prescription drug benefit. The nature of the benefit has not changed for low-income seniors. The good news — not the bad, as you point out — is that all eligible seniors, including those just above the low-income threshold, have prescription drug coverage, which was not the case before the enactment of the Medicare prescription drug benefit.

Yet another falsehood is that the roll-out date of Jan. 1 is somehow associated with a penalty. There is a penalty for enrolling after the May 15 deadline. This fact is published quite plainly in collateral material on the prescription drug benefit. Mr. Thomasson apparently misunderstood this fact.

He also writes that “Just empowering Medicare to negotiate the lowest costs rather than permitting the benefit to be a financial sinecure for the drug companies might have saved some confusion and a lot of money.” Wrong again. That could not be further from the truth. The Medicare Modernization Act does not prohibit negotiations with drug companies. In fact, it requires the Medicare plans to negotiate with drug makers for better prices. These negotiations are at the heart of the new Medicare drug benefit.

The so-called “non-interference” clause keeps bureaucrats at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services from interfering with those negotiations. Let’s be clear: This makes sure savings result from market competition rather than price fixing at CMS. This same provision was in the Daschle-Kennedy-Rockefeller prescription drug bill and the Gephardt-Dingell-Stark drug bill in 2000. The Congressional Budget Office concluded that striking the noninterference clause would not result in lower drug prices. In a letter to Congress, the CBO said it “estimates that substantial savings will be obtained by the private plans.” Direct government negotiation is not the answer. The government does not negotiate drug prices. The government sets prices. The new Medicare drug benefit creates consumer choices among competing, at-risk private plans. The Medicare plans will leverage the buying power of millions of beneficiaries to lower drug prices.

Leadership and members of the Finance Committee have been in close contact with CMS to ensure that seniors do not leave pharmacies without their prescriptions, states are reimbursed and pharmacists receive additional help. By working closely with the administration, prescription drug plans, pharmacists and others have identified a list of items that need to be addressed and are working on action plans to resolve the issues. This is a collaborative and bipartisan effort.

CMS has dramatically increased staff at its call centers and improved the speed of computer systems that can be used to check a beneficiary’s enrollment and established a system to reimburse states.

Despite the successes of the benefit and the strong efforts to find quick solutions to solve the bumps in the implementation road, many prefer to focus on the problems. As can be expected in the start of a large new program, there have been some challenges. By focusing on the problems, the media is fueling this constant and steady stream of negative rhetoric about the benefit that is causing seniors and disabled beneficiaries not to sign up.

SEN. CRAIG THOMAS

Washington

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