- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 13, 2006

ANNAPOLIS — Maryland’s U.S. Senate candidates are fighting for the senior-citizen vote by attacking the shortcomings of the new Medicare prescription-drug benefit.

Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, the presumptive Republican nominee, is calling for an extension of the program’s enrollment deadline of tomorrow, which more than 200,000 eligible Marylanders risk missing.

“Only in Washington would a popular program penalize those who would benefit from it because government cannot adequately explain how it works,” Mr. Steele said Thursday.

“President Bush and Congress should extend the sign-up period until the end of the year,” he said. “At the same time, we should step back and study which seniors have not already enrolled for the new drug benefits and why.”

U.S. Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, the race’s top Democrat and leading fundraiser with about $2.6 million, also is calling for extending the deadline for the plan, known as Medicare Part D.

Mr. Cardin, who has often worked on health care issues in Congress and penned several Medicare reforms, has long opposed Medicare Part D and introduced legislation at the beginning of this session that would have extended the deadline.

Kweisi Mfume, a former congressman and National Association for the Advancement of Colored People leader seeking the Democratic nomination, also has attacked the drug plan and the deadline.

“It’s another example of how the administration, with the acquiesce of some in Congress, has put process over people,” said Eric Bryant, political director for the Mfume campaign. “We are dealing with a vulnerable population. … It’s pretty clear that a good portion of Medicare population will not be up to speed” by the deadline.

The plan provides drug coverage to most seniors with a monthly premium and an annual $250 deductible. The penalty is a 1 percent increase in the premium for each month past the deadline when enrolling.

Mr. Cardin, who voted against Medicare Part D and called it “a raw deal for seniors,” has criticized Mr. Steele for voicing support for the plan earlier this year.

“The prescription-drug penalty adds insult to injury for America’s seniors,” Mr. Cardin said recently. “First, the president gave seniors a prescription-drug program that is too costly, too confusing and leaves too many seniors without real drug coverage. Now, if Maryland seniors can’t sort through all 48 confusing options … they may be slapped with a penalty that they’ll have to pay for the rest of their lives.”

Mr. Steele owes an explanation to “Maryland seniors why they’ll need to pay a lifelong penalty on top of their skyrocketing prescription-drug costs,” Mr. Cardin said.

Mr. Steele, who has $1.76 million in his campaign coffers and has been gaining on Mr. Cardin in the money contest, said the deadline is the problem, not the program.

“It suggests an inside-the-Beltway mentality that our seniors exist for Washington — instead of the other way around,” he said. “That’s exactly the kind of attitude I am going to Washington to change.”

A poll last month by nonpartisan Gonzales Research & Marketing Strategies showed Mr. Cardin leading Mr. Steele 49 percent to 35 percent. In the alternative matchup, Mr. Mfume led Mr. Steele 44 percent to 39 percent.

The same polls showed Mr. Cardin edging out Mr. Mfume in the primary contest, 39 percent to 31 percent.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide