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Seniors Study New Drug Plan

Seniors received a big dose of bad news when they studied the new prescription drug bill at a "Town Hall" meeting at Weiss Auditorium in Methodist Hospital in Oak Cliff on August 24. About 30 seniors gathered with Congressman Martin Frost and Max Richtman, Executive Vice President of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.

The meeting began with a 12-minute video in which newsman Walter Cronkite explains some of the most prominent features of the bill that begins in January, 2006, but has generated a prescription drug card feature already. People whose incomes put them below the poverty line and can prove that they have almost no assets will be able to get a good deal on their prescription drugs. Everybody else will face monthly premiums, co-pays, and substantial deductibles in the new program. There is a giant gap in coverage known as the "doughnut hole."

Congressman Frost said, "I did not vote for this new law for a variety of reasons." The two most prominent were these:
1. The law forbids the government from using their leverage to bargain for better prices
2. The "doughnut hole" gap in coverage is very large. It is also set to grow every year at a rate much higher than inflation.

Congressman Frost released copies of a new study, "Medicare Drug Cards Provide Few Discounts in the Dallas-Fort Worth Area." It says that many people on Medicare are just about as well off without one of the new prescription drug cards as with one. Further, they could have saved a lot of money had the new bill not prohibited buying drugs in Canada or negotiating for better prices as the Veterans' Administration has done for some time.

Max Richtman's organization was introduced as the second largest retiree advocate group in America. He asked the assembled seniors how many had applied for a prescription drug card. None had. Richtman said that only two seniors in his last 6-7 Town Hall meetings had applied, and one of them said she regretted it. He called the prescription drug card plan an "empty promise," a "false promise," and a "cruel hoax."

He said that the White House claims 4 million seniors have signed up, but in fact most of them were automatically enrolled by their HMO's; consequently, very few had actually chosen the drug card plan. Low participation is occurring despite the spending of a great deal of tax money on advertising that, Richman said, was not true. In fact, Richtman pointed out, other features of Medicare will worsen in 2006 with the new bill.

As for the present drug card plan, Richtman said that people who buy the cards soon learn that they cannot change cards for one year, while the card sellers are free to change prices and the list of drugs available for discount! The drug companies raised prices 18% already this year, Richter said, so that the discounts had been eaten up by higher prices.Congressman Frost talks to a constituent

Both Richtman and Frost agreed that the "Medicare Prescription Drug Improvement and Modernization Act of 2003" had been written by drug companies and driven through congress by their lobbyists. They blamed the AARP for having endorsed the bill. Even with all the money and power behind it, the bill almost didn't pass. Congressional leaders held the vote open for an unprecedented 3 hours while they worked to make sure the Representatives voted with them.

Congressman Frost said, "How did this happen? Because the drug companies made it happen!"

The seniors had ample time to contribute their own experiences and ask questions. All of them confirmed what the two speakers had been saying. One elderly man said, "Where was President Bush's head when he signed this? Why don't they negotiate for seniors instead of against us?"