Washington, DC — Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid and Democratic Senators Bill Nelson and Jeff Bingaman today sent the following letter to Health and Human Services Director Michael Leavitt and Social Security Administration Director Jo Anne Barnhart. The implementation of the Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit has been marred by problems, and Democrats are working to ensure seniors have the time they need to enroll and don’t lose their Social Security checks just for signing up.
April 27, 2006
The Honorable Michael Leavitt
Department of Health and Human Services
200 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20201
The Honorable Jo Anne Barnhart
Social Security Administration
6401 Security Boulevard
Baltimore, MD 21235-0001
Dear Secretary Leavitt and Commissioner Barnhart,
We write to you regarding recent reports about the confusion and uncertainty caused by the delayed deduction of Medicare prescription drug premiums. Although we have long supported adding drug coverage to Medicare, we opposed the law that created the new prescription drug program because we believed it to be deeply flawed. Nevertheless, since the enactment of the Medicare Modernization Act and the implementation of the drug program, we have tried to make this program serve beneficiaries and help our constituents make the best choices for them.
It is clear that the Medicare drug program has experienced a variety of implementation problems. The most recent issue that has come to our attention is the failure of the Administration to process premium withholdings appropriately. These failures have put coverage at risk for beneficiaries who have enrolled, unnecessarily raised questions in their minds about their status in the program, and burdened many of them with demands to pay several months of premiums in a lump sum. We understand that the Administration may withhold the premiums for multiple months from one Social Security check which will be extremely difficult for seniors living on fixed incomes. Even your partners in this program, the private plans, are faced with uncertainty and delayed payments.
The interactions between the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Social Security Administration have already resulted in delays for those who need assistance the most and have sought to enroll in the low-income subsidy. Given recent developments, we are requesting that you provide us with a written update on how you are correcting the premium deduction problems.
Furthermore, as you know, we have been advocating for an extension of the enrollment deadline and late enrollment penalty. The processing problems and the potential for disenrollment of beneficiaries who are in the program is yet another reason to allow continued enrollment through the year and to waive the penalty for 2006. We again implore you to support legislation to give beneficiaries the time they need and deserve to navigate this complicated program and the pitfalls they face.
Thank you for your attention to this matter.