Thursday, October 13, 2005

Don’t cut Medicare

Robert Moffit’s Saturday Commentary column, “Delay or cancel drug benefits,” on canceling Medicare Part D, the new prescription drug benefit, completely missed the mark. The high cost of prescription drugs is forcing many seniors to go without the medication they need to stay healthy — and low-income seniors are not the only ones feeling the squeeze.

As a physician, I believe Medicare Part D is a compassionate and cost-effective way of helping our seniors stay well. What Medicare pays for a senior’s medication is far less than what Medicare pays when that patient undergoes open-heart surgery because he or she couldn’t afford cholesterol-lowering drugs.

We in Congress and President Bush must look for ways to offset spending related to Hurricane Katrina, and I strongly support finding those offsets in both our mandatory and discretionary spending. However, hurricane offsets are a burden the federal government should shoulder collectively. It is irresponsible to place this weight squarely on the backs of our seniors.

While Medicare Part D is not perfect, it represents the largest health care advancement our government has offered seniors since Medicare was introduced 40 years ago. Medicare prescription drug coverage is overdue, and delaying or canceling this program should not be an option.


11th District of Georgia



In his commentary, Robert Moffit suggests that in order to provide adequate cuts in government spending to provide relief and rebuild after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the Medicareprescription drug benefit should not begin on Jan. 1 as planned.

While we share Mr. Moffit’s overall fiscal concerns about meeting the needs of the Gulf Coast in its recovery, this is no time to delay a promised Medicare benefit that seniors are anticipating and need more than ever.

Extensive education and outreach has been building up to the Nov. 15 initial enrollment period. Medicare participants are expecting this benefit and have been planning accordingly. Entertaining the possibility of delaying this benefit will put seniors in limbo and lead to the possibility that some may delay enrollment, causing them to pay higher premiums later.

There are ample other ways to target Medicare spending more efficiently. Policy-makers cannot play games with seniors who have been counting on this benefit, which has been lacking for too long in the Medicare program.

Furthermore, it is logistically impossible at this late stage for employers to alter their retiree health programs for 2006. Within weeks of the drug benefit’s enactment into law, employers began working closely with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to integrate this new Medicare benefit into their retiree health programs, which currently provide prescription drug coverage to 12 million Medicare beneficiaries.

Employers and health plans have spent these past two years evaluating their plans, making the necessary changes to comply with Medicare’s requirements and incorporating the benefit into private plans. Many employers are conducting — or have completed — open enrollment for 2006. The Medicare benefit factors heavily into their programs and financing for both active and retired employees, and it is impossible to alter those plans at this point.

We recognize that recent emergency spending may require cuts in some programs. Medicare’s drug benefit should not be one.


Executive director, health care policy

U.S. Chamber of Commerce


Bloggers are journalists, too

The Wednesday editorial “Suffocating the First Amendment” does you credit. It is refreshing to see a major newspaper defending the existence of the blogosphere. The emergence of Web logs as a force in American politics and culture has already proved to be a significant contribution to robust debate and the free exchange of ideas, and any attempt to limit it, including the McCain-Feingold law (the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002), should be resisted with vigor.

News and politics blogs are “citizen journalism.” They allow anyone, not just media giants such as newspapers and television broadcasters, to disseminate news and views to whatever audience they can attract. This makes them both an alternative to and a critique upon the professional journalists, and it means that the arrogant, self-absorbed Dan Rathers of the world are no longer able to dictate the terms of our national conversations.

One would expect well-established media organs such as The Times to be either hostile or indifferent to the future of the bloggers. The fact that you are not speaks well for your self-confidence as well as your genuine commitment to the free exchange of information and ideas. Thank you.



Even the Fed errs

Donald Lambro understandably worries that remarks by a single Federal Reserve official can cause panic in markets (“Engines of market turbulence,” Commentary, yesterday).

The solution, though, isn’t to hope that Fed officials never again misspeak or misread economic facts. Being human, they’ll inevitably err.

The solution is to get government out of the business of supplying money. Abolish regulations that hinder private banks from issuing money. Competition among private money issuers would be as vigorous as competition among suppliers of other goods and services and just as economically beneficial. Also, importantly, the supply of money would be determined by market forces rather than by a handful of pooh-bahs capable of misleading markets with unguarded comments.


Chairman, Department of Economics

George Mason University


The global challenge of Islamofascism

I hope your pointed Oct. 7 editorial “The Islamofascist challenge” has at least partially forced the leaders of all democratic and free societies out of their complacency as regards the clear, present and ever-increasing danger of evil Islamofascist ideology-based global terrorism.

As per your editorial, President Bush earlier this month specifically named the threat the United States faces today: Islamofascism. Mr. Bush alluded to the fact that when it becomes apparent that a protracted war is inevitable, democracies tend to look for the easy way out — to hope that somehow a way can be found to reach an understanding with their enemies that would enable a way to resolve things peacefully. That is a dangerous illusion in the current conflict with radical Islamists.

Islamic terrorism is indivisible. As the president observed, today’s Islamist terror networks operate in many forms — as part of the Taliban or al Qaeda or in groups associated with them. They include a large number of terrorist organizations based in Pakistani-controlled areas that carry out cross-border terrorism into Afghanistan and Indian Kashmir and also include others operating in Iraq, the Philippines, Thailand, the United States, Britain, Europe, Russia, etc.

Through the years, some 3,000 “core militants” received military training in Libya before joining the Islamic insurgency in Thailand’s Muslim-majority south, Thai Gen. Panlop Pinmanee told a seminar of 100 security officials on Wednesday. The United States should provide high-tech equipment and guidance to Thai authorities to fight this menace.



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