- The Washington Times - Monday, May 22, 2006

Recently this page was characterized as a “cheering section” for the Medicare drug benefit by the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal. Though not meant as a compliment, we take both the attack and the term as such. We are proud of our early and constant support for the reform of Medicare for many reasons, even as we allowed and published opinions on the other side of the issue. We believed that the addition of a drug benefit to Medicare, while not perfect, would inject market competition and consumer choice into a bureaucratically administered mess. Allowing private companies and consumers to decide how to implement the benefits — instead of government — has produced striking results.

We remember how the Wall Street Journal that called us the “cheering section” predicted how the electoral fields would be red with Republican blood when seniors found that their drug benefits were exhausted come October after hitting the $1,500 gap in coverage that existed in the legislation. Well, it seems as though private companies came up with plans that filled the hole. Nearly 90 percent of seniors chose plans to avoid the gap, often a cost below the standard premium. As of a few weeks ago, well over 70 percent of the seniors who have signed up for the prescription drug program tell pollsters they like the program and expect to save money because of it. So much for the prediction of pundits on the right and left that seniors would wreak retribution upon Republicans in November when they exhausted benefits.

Some are now claiming that drugs simply add to the Medicare budget without any benefit whatsoever. In one sense this is true. By withholding care you can save money — in the very short run. But to suggest that the new cervical cancer vaccine will not eliminate spending on removing cervixes, that use of beta blockers does not reduce the use of surgical procedures or increased use of diabetes medicines will not reduce the number of feet amputated? To imply that genetic tests which identify who is at risk for stomach cancer and will respond best to a particular drug won’t save money? As Eric Hoffer observed, “In times of change, learners inherit the Earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.”

That goes for politics too. Opinion polls in support of the benefit are off the chart. And apparently Democratic strategists are telling candidates to cool their anti-benefit rhetoric. Republican congressmen are planning to run on the issue, and Democratic Party congressional challengers are getting nervous about their aggressive negative stand fed to them to by their party’s spinmeisters. And we wouldn’t be surprised if Democratic Party challengers will have wished they had not bought into their party’s propaganda on this point.

Indeed, the health care blog drugwonks.com posts two stories Medicare chief Mark McClellan tells about his outreach tour that should make Democrats shudder and Republicans feel good about what the drug benefit has done. Dr. McClellan said that many times seniors came up to him in tears “because they can finally afford the medicines they need.” The other speaks to the fact that seniors see the benefit as a responsibility, not an entitlement. After hearing him speak, a woman came up to Dr. McClellan and told him she was going to enroll even though she wasn’t currently taking any prescription drugs because, “You never know what’s going to happen when you get older.” Dr. McClellan asked, “How old are you now?” Her reply, “102.”

That’s a cheering section to be proud of. We are. So should Republicans who supported the benefit.

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