- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 14, 2006

Three years after its creation, the Medicare prescription-drug program remains a source of partisan bickering, as evidenced by the fight that has surrounded tonight’s deadline for seniors to sign up for the program.

But even after the deadline passes, the fight over the program will go on. Republican leaders have been arguing that the program is working well, but dissent is starting to swell within the party over such matters as whether people should pay a penalty for missing the enrollment deadline.

“I’m pleased to see the robust enrollment in the program,” said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas, California Republican said Friday. “Choice of plans proves competition is working. As a result, prices, premiums and drug costs are down.”

After midnight tonight, seniors will have to wait until November to sign up and will face a penalty fee, which Democrats argue amounts to an unfair tax. The deadline and fee have been waived for low-income people, but Democrats said it should have been done for all, and at least one key Republican agrees.

Rep. Nancy L. Johnson of Connecticut, who leads the House Ways and Means’ subcommittee on health, told the Associated Press that she will introduce a bill to waive the penalty and said she thinks a waiver has enough support to pass in the fall.

“The bottom line is, this is a democracy, and the Congress responds to the people and shapes the program so it’s good for them,” Mrs. Johnson said. “I think it’s fair and reasonable to eliminate the penalty” for 2006.

House Republican sources said the proposal has enough support to make approval possible.

The administration said last week that about 37 million of the 43 million people on Medicare and thus eligible for the Part D program now have prescription-drug coverage — through Medicare, other government programs or private insurance. About 27 million of them are in the new Medicare prescription-drug program.

Democrats and advocacy groups, however, say that administration numbers have been inflated and that many of the seniors the administration counts as already having coverage from other sources in fact do not. They’ve been pushing to extend tonight’s deadline and will continue to push to make some major changes to the program.

“To make it work for all seniors and people with disabilities, it needs clarity, and it needs common sense. Democrats are ready to provide both,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, who led the Democratic demand that the deadline be extended.

The liberal advocacy group Families USA pledged Friday to closely monitor the program well after today’s deadline to see whether drug prices go up, how many seniors enter the so-called “doughnut hole” when they will be without coverage for a time and how many private plans will drop out.

These factors “will determine whether the program succeeds or fails,” warned Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA.

The new Medicare drug program allows seniors to choose from several private insurers. The administration estimates that the average beneficiary will save more than $1,100 this year by enrolling, and average monthly premiums are $25, more than $10 less than expected.

Some groups say that overall, the drug program, which got off to a rocky start in January, is going much better now.

“The results are better than anyone anticipated,” said Cheryl Matheis, an AARP spokeswoman. “It’s been on a lot more positive trajectory over the past months.” She also said AARP field offices Friday were reporting a last-minute crush of seniors signing up.

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