Progressive Writers Bloc

Medicare: George Bush’s Fix

By Carolyn Westmoreland

Help for seniors? This revision of Medicare is not going to help anyone but the drug and insurance industries. There won’t be a reduction in the price of prescription drugs. But, it will allow insurance companies to collect 12 billion of our tax dollars as incentives to stay in the Medicare system. And, it might interest you to know that they can still opt out and eliminate their own coverage altogether! This is happening already. Since 1997, 2.5 million seniors and people with disabilities have been dropped by some of these insurance companies, and some of these same businesses will be receiving shares of the billions handed over to them to provide services within the Medicare system. This is according to the Health Reform Program analysis of the bill. Sweet for someone, but certainly not the people who need medications and health services.

The Health Policy Director of Consumers Union, Gail Shearer, found that most beneficiaries, those without prescription drug coverage, will face higher costs for prescription drugs after full implementation of the new benefits provided by Medicare. In other words, a person spending 2,318 on prescriptions in 2003 will see their costs for the same drugs rise to 2,911 in 2007. Keep in mind that increases in retirement benefits will not match these cost hikes. I don’t know about you, but this is a big ouch in the pocketbook.

Drug makers will be pocketing 139 billion in new revenues from the taxpayers, according to the Health Reform Program analysis of the bill. According to the Wall Street Journal, "For the drug industry, the legislation is good news….Drug makers believe individual private buyers are less able to push down prices than a centralized government purchaser with a pool of 40 million patients." This legislation makes it illegal for Medicare to bargain for lower drug prices.

Have you ever had to deal with an HMO? I have and I dropped that kind of coverage like a hot potato. Now we are going to be seeing HMO’s subsidized by our tax dollars (12 billion) in incentives handed out to sell health care coverage Medicare already provides. The Alliance for Retired Americans states that "This law really undermines the traditional Medicare program by forcing it to compete, beginning in 2010, with private HMO insurance plans." Supporters say that this is only a demonstration project, but many financial experts think that this is the start of the privatization of Medicare. Medicare will not only be forced to compete for members, but it will have to pay skyrocketing drug costs with no bargaining power allowed to find lower prices. There are also caps on Medicare spending in the new law that require the President to cut Medicare spending, and this includes benefit cuts, if the costs go above an arbitrary spending limit.

Millions of poor people will lose Medicaid drug coverage. And, middle class retirees will find that their employers will drop their insurance coverage.

There are so many more negatives in this new Medicare mess, I could go on to tell you about the tax cuts for the rich, and the 14 million or more the drug industry spent in lobbying to get this disaster passed in their favor, but space is limited.

When my President said, "This legislation is a victory for all Americans" at the bill signing ceremony on December 8, he must have been thinking about some other country’s medical plan, not the one he put together for Americans. We are already paying what single payer health coverage would cost, including the drugs needed by millions of us, but we are not seeing the benefits.

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