- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 4, 2001

President George W. Bush's new framework to improve Medicare is a step in the right direction for America's seniors.

During the 2000 presidential campaign then-Gov. Bush spent a lot of time talking about the need to reform Medicare to provide 21st-century health care to America's seniors.

Now, just six months into his presidency, President Bush has delivered on his promise. Two weeks ago, he outlined his commitment to strengthen and improve the ailing Medicare program. The president's principles for modernizing Medicare seek to expand prescription drug coverage to all senior citizens, offer pharmacy discount cards, improve preventative care and give beneficiaries more choice in their medical treatment.

Since its conception in 1965, Medicare has been riddled with problems. The federal health insurance program was created, originally, to pay for the costs incurred during overnight hospital stays. But, today's medicine is far different than the medicine of the 1960s. Sadly, Medicare has not kept pace with medical advancements and longer life expectancies.

Medicare today is failing to deliver the health care America's seniors need and deserve. The benefit package is not only outdated, but inadequate. The administration of the program is inefficient and oftentimes counterproductive. And the financial security of the system is in serious trouble as the Baby Boomers begin to enter the system in the next decade.

With the president's announcement he has recognized several ways Medicare has failed to deliver reliable, affordable and quality health care services. First and foremost, Medicare does not currently offer a prescription drug benefit. Seniors have come to increasingly rely on prescription medicines to enhance their lives. And in many instances, medicines are also considered the cheaper, most effective method of treatment for illness.

The president has recognized these facts and under his suggested framework he outlines an option for prescription drug coverage as part of a reformed Medicare program. The president has recognized seniors need to have access to prescription drugs and has pointed out that under the vast majority of employer-sponsored private insurance plans, such as those many retired seniors currently enjoy, prescription drugs are part of the coverage.

As important as the president's commitment to prescription drug coverage is his commitment to affording seniors a choice in their health care services. The president has suggested Medicare offer seniors the choice to select coverage under private insurance plans. Such plans often offer a wide variety of preventive benefits like dental and eye care that are tremendously valuable to seniors.

By introducing the notion of competition into the Medicare marketplace, the president believes health care will become more reliable and offer better and more complete health care for seniors.

Finally, the president has outlined several ways to shore up the financial health of the Medicare program itself. He has proposed simplifying the complicated funding system to provide a more accurate measure of its ability to continue servicing the needs of seniors. He wants to work to improve the management of Medicare to reduce bureaucracy and eliminate fraud and abuse.

The promise of Medicare is a sacred trust between America and its seniors. The president appears determined to fulfill this important promise by strengthening and improving the Medicare system for now and for years to come. Let's encourage our other representatives in government to work with him to build on the foundations he has created and keep Medicare an important and valuable example of America's commitment to seniors.

Jim Martin is president of the 60 Plus Association, a non-partisan seniors citizen organization with more than half a million members nationally.

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