- The Washington Times - Monday, May 15, 2006

Two weeks into the rollout of the Medicare prescription drug program, the media had written the new benefit off as too confusing, too expensive and too measly for anyone to sign up. One objective reporter wrote: “The Medicare drug program that was supposed to win political points for Republicans has exploded in their faces as this election year has begun.” At the time, Sen. Ted Kennedy claimed that Medicare is facing “system wide failure” that “puts the health of our frailest citizens at great risk.” Sen. Hillary Clinton said the program was “man-made disaster” on the scale of Hurricane Katrina.

As of this writing, 11 million of the 13 million seniors who never had drug insurance are now enrolled. Nearly 80 percent of all seniors eligible for the low-income subsidy now have coverage. What’s more, surveys show that nearly 90 percent of consumers had no problem signing up or using the benefit.

This is not just the most successful implementation of a federal program in recent memory; it is also a historic breakthrough in the effort create a true market for health care. More than 30 million seniors are using their own money to choose a drug plan that meets their needs. In response, companies have slashed premiums, improved customer service and added new medicines. Enrollees are saving up to 75 percent on their drug costs. Taxpayers are saving too because competition has cut the cost of the benefit by 20 percent and seniors who take medicines for chronic illness will be less likely to use more expensive hospital services.

Incredibly, as the op-ed by Robert Goldberg suggests on the opposing page, Democrats are proposing to rob seniors of their newfound freedom and replace it with a one-size-fits-all government-run drug plan if they take power next November. All the more reason that the Bush administration and members of Congress who voted for Medicare reform should take credit for the program’s success in this fall’s elections. Linking the fearmongers to something seniors should truly be afraid of would be both good politics and good policy.

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