- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Urges seniors

to fill out form

ORLANDO, Fla. — Bob Dole — elder statesman and celebrity pitchman — has a message for older Americans, and it’s far more important than cola brands or sexual dysfunction:

Come January, Medicare will undergo the biggest overhaul since it was created in 1965. For the first time, 40 million older and disabled Americans will get systematic help paying for their prescription drugs.



“Everyone will get it,” Mr. Dole told the Florida Council on Aging. “Donald Trump qualifies, if we can find him. So can the vice president, come to think about it. Your health or income don’t make a difference.”

But first, things are going to get a little crazy.

Unlike traditional Medicare, where one program fits all, the drug benefit will be administered by about two dozen insurance companies and other organizations that will negotiate discounts from drug manufacturers and try to woo people on Medicare with an array of prices and choices.

As of Oct. 1, these private drug brokers can start flooding mailboxes, newspapers and airways with advertising. The more people they sign up to their plans, the more premiums and co-payments they collect, the more clout they can wield while making bulk purchases.

President Bush and members of his administration have toured the country, exhorting people on Medicare to get ready. But with the sign-up period less than two months away, polls show most Americans have little grasp of how the program will work.

Mr. Dole, 82, said he wants to “energize” fellow seniors and their families to learn about the new drug coverage and how it can help them. “This is going to save people an average of $1,300 a year,” he said. “You are going to have to start making choices, and it’s going to start very quickly.”

Since June, Mr. Dole has given similar speeches at a few other locales. His time and expenses are underwritten by Pfizer, the drug company that manufacturers Viagra, which the former Senate majority leader and presidential candidate helped make famous. He promised not to endorse any particular drug plan once coverage begins.

The Medicare Modernization Act of 2003, which created the drug benefit, forbids the federal government from dictating prices to manufacturers, a provision that drew fire from Democrats and others. Mr. Dole suggested that it’s time to put partisanship aside.

“We worked 40 years to get prescription drug benefits. Now we have it,” he tells the collection of academics, advocates and entrepreneurs who work with older Floridians . “Whether you are Republican, Democrat or independent, it is the law.”

For months, the Social Security Administration has sent out letters urging people to apply for the subsidies so the paperwork can get processed. But most of those letters are ending up in the trash can, Mr. Dole said, urging council members to identify low-income candidates and help them apply.

“Some people don’t trust the government. … Some don’t want to give out their Social Security numbers,” he said. “We are going to have to reach out. This is a no-brainer.”

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