Searchlight, Nevada - Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid released the following statement as the Medicare prescription drug benefit takes effect on January 1, 2006:
“At the start of this new year, millions of Americans will begin to have coverage under the new Medicare prescription drug benefit. While Republicans continue to fight for their special interest friends, Democrats have been fighting to protect seniors and people with disabilities. Democrats created Medicare in 1965 to help seniors struggling with the costs of medical care and it was Democrats who fought for and proposed a voluntary, comprehensive, and affordable prescription drug benefit that would improve the lives of Medicare beneficiaries. In 2003, when Republicans designed this new drug coverage, most Democrats could not support the final legislation because it was so needlessly complicated and included shameless giveaways to the drug and insurance industries at the expense of seniors. The law goes too far in protecting special interests, actually prohibiting Medicare from using the bargaining power of its 42 million beneficiaries to negotiate lower drug prices and providing a $10 billion slush fund to HMOs, while leaving confused seniors with gaps in coverage and burdensome penalties.
“Not only is the program’s design unfair to seniors, but the Bush Administration has continued to bungle the implementation of the new drug benefit. They have failed to process applications in a timely manner; they have sent empty envelopes to beneficiaries; they have printed and distributed millions of copies of the Medicare&You Handbook with errors about the premiums plans will charge the lowest-income enrollees; and they have mischaracterized the drug benefit in a Parade Magazine insert. At the same time, Republicans in the White House and on Capitol Hill have rejected Democratic efforts to protect beneficiaries and make this process easier for them. Republicans defeated a Democratic attempt to ensure that our most vulnerable beneficiaries do not lose access to medications as the Administration transfers them from Medicaid to private plans, they blocked attempts to repeal the prohibition on Medicare negotiation, and rejected our attempts to delay the late enrollment penalty and to allow beneficiaries to change plans once in this very confusing first year.
“Seniors and people with disabilities are confused by the multitude of plans offering different benefit packages that cover different drugs from different pharmacies for very different prices. Democrats believe that Medicare should offer comprehensive and comprehensible drug coverage. We know that it is not too late to make the drug program work for people with Medicare, and that is what we should be doing. We have offered, and will continue to fight for, solutions that will improve this program because together, we can do better to help America’s seniors and people with disabilities.”