Washington, DC — House and Senate Democrats today joined with hundreds of seniors from around the country to call on President Bush and Congressional Republicans to extend the enrollment deadline for the Medicare prescription drug plan.
The Bush Administration’s botched implementation of the plan, itself a special interest giveaway to drug companies and HMOs, has punished seniors around the country. Now, with millions still not signed up for the confusing program and the enrollment period set to expire on Monday, Democrats are urging Bush Republicans not to charge seniors for their own incompetence.
“Seniors across America should not be forced to pay the price for mistakes made by Bush Republicans in Washington,” said Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (D-NV). “The White House botched the implementation of the prescription drug plan, and millions have been unable to navigate their way through the confusing sign-up process. Democrats believe they shouldn’t be penalized for it. It is time for Republicans to put America’s seniors first and extend this deadline.”
“In five days, Republicans will hit our seniors with an arbitrary deadline, and an arbitrary tax,” said House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). “Democrats stand united to extend the May 15th deadline and end the Bush prescription drug tax. American families deserve a benefit that doesn’t complicate their lives, but does more to lower costs and confusion.”
Said Assistant Senate Democratic Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL), “Seniors are paying the price because drug companies are pulling the strings in Washington. What other explanation is there for the stubborn refusal by President Bush and Republican leaders in Congress to extend the May 15th enrollment deadline? Millions of seniors are faced with a mountain of prescription drug bills and a growing stack of glitzy brochures from insurance companies looking for new customers. Unless we extend the deadline, seniors in Illinois and across the country who don’t sign up by May 16th will be hit with a lifetime penalty that will make their prescriptions more expensive. It is time for the President to start listening to America’s seniors, not to Washington drug company lobbyists.”
“The Republican culture of corruption has raised the special interests above the people’s interests–and the prescription drug program is exhibit a in the culture of corruption,” said House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD). “The culture of corruption created a program that lets insurance companies not seniors make all the important decisions, that is confusing for seniors and lucrative for insurance companies, that is leaving many seniors behind and that is enforcing an arbitrary deadline and slapping a “senior tax” on unsuspecting Americans. On top of all that, the Republican culture of corruption allowed the chief house negotiator on this bill to leave congress for a multi-million-dollar job with the very drug companies this bill benefits. America can do better. We must extend the deadline and fix this law.”
“Seniors should not be penalized because the government can’t get its act together,” said Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI). “We know the Administration is not providing the straightforward, accurate information seniors and people with disabilities need to make the right choice. We need to extend the deadline to fix the problems with the new program and to give everyone enough time to choose a plan that meets their needs.”
“I know my Republican colleagues hear the outcry from constituents asking for a simple, reliable benefit, but until now they’ve been unwilling to stand up their leadership,” said Ways and Means Ranking Member Charles B. Rangel (D-NY). “The time has come for Republicans to put their money where their mouths are and extend the deadline so folks can make informed decisions to enroll in the plan that’s right for them.”
“With all the confusion surrounding the Medicare drug plan, seniors shouldn’t have to pay a penalty if they chose the wrong plan or delayed enrollment,” said Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL). “They deserve enough time to research plans and ask for help to make an informed decision.”
Said Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), “President Bush and Republicans are asking why Democrats want to extend the enrollment deadline. My question is, why not? Half of the seniors and people with disabilities who had no prescription drug coverage last year have yet to enroll, and nearly that many remain unaware of the deadline. According to the Congressional Budget Office, 7.5 million beneficiaries would avoid a lifetime of late enrollment penalties if the deadline were extended. The Stark-Schakowsky Medicare Informed Choice Act would give beneficiaries until the end of the year to choose the right plan and to switch if they make a mistake.”
Since its inception, Democrats have been fighting to improve the Medicare Drug Plan–to clean out the special interests giveaways, to fix the botched implementation, and to give seniors the time they need to navigate the confusing enrollment process. With the enrollment deadline only days away, it is more important than ever to give America’s seniors a program that favors their interests, not the special interests.