Medicare Drug Bill Raises Consumer Ire
The Medicare prescription drug legislation approved recently by the House of Representatives is being hotly debated by interest groups.
While business groups are calling H.R. 4954 a significant first step towards comprehensive reform, consumer groups are blasting the legislation as deceptive and unworkable.
Specifically, H.R. 4954, called the Medicare Modernization and Prescription Drug Act, was approved recently by a narrow 221-208 vote that went largely along party lines.
The bill establishes a voluntary prescription drug benefit program. Under the program, beneficiaries would have an annual $250 deductible for prescription drugs.
Insurance companies participating in the program would cover 80% of costs between $251 and $1,000. Insurers would pay 50% of costs between $1,001 and $2,000.
Beneficiaries would pay all costs between $2,001 and $4,500. Above $4,500, Medicare will pay all costs.
Beneficiaries below 150% of the poverty line would receive a premium subsidy for the prescription drug insurance.
A health care business group, the Healthcare Leadership Council, Washington, praised the legislation, stating that senior citizens have waited too long for prescription drug coverage.
“The House of Representatives has given Medicare beneficiaries hope that they may see a modernized program that provides increased access to needed medicines, preventive care and new, improved treatments,” sayd Mary R. Grealy, president of HLC.
She said the Senate should do what is right for seniors and work to make prescription drug coverage a reality.
A major employers group, the National Association of Manufacturers, says the legislation relies on some of the same means employers use to managed their drug benefits, adding that it will expand the availability of affordable prescription drugs.
But consumer groups are blasting H.R. 4954.
Gail Shearer, director of health policy analysis for Consumers Union, Washington, says the bill is doomed to fail because its basic design in flawed.
“Congress has ignored an important lesson from the Medigap market,” she says. “The insurance industry cannot deliver an affordable prescription drug benefit in a voluntary marketplace where those with little need for medicine can simply pass up coverage.”
Shearer says the legislation falsely raises the hopes of seniors.
Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, agrees.