Congressman Bill Pascrell

Representing the 9th District of NEW JERSEY

Prescription Drugs in Medicare: Don't Settle

Nov 21, 2003

In the movie "Thelma and Louise," Louise turns to Thelma and says, "You get what you settle for."  How right she was.

The Republican Prescription Drug bill is the worst example of accepting what you are given.  The Administration is telling seniors that they should settle.  They have even convinced the AARP that they are getting half a loaf, which is of course better than no bread at all.  But seniors beware!  Under this flawed plan, seniors will not be getting a half a loaf.  They will not be getting a slice.  Our seniors will be settling for the crumbs, while the special interests are getting rich on cake.

Republicans have found a way to give a little to seniors with one hand and take much more away with the other. The Republican legislation has a massive gap in coverage, from $2,250 to $3,600 where seniors will be forced to pay 100% of the cost.  This means that when a senior spends $5,100 in annual drug costs, they will have to pay $4,020 out of pocket!  Half of all Medicare beneficiaries will fall into this coverage gap while paying for premiums and not getting any benefit.

In addition, the delivery of benefits is flawed.  Republicans have misplaced their trust by allowing  private insurance companies to control who is and who is not eligible for coverage.  Those special interests will have wide latitude in setting premiums and deductibles.  Seniors will also no longer have the right to choose their own doctors or pharmacies like they have done for generations.  Private insurance companies will now make that decision for them!

Furthermore, this legislation denies American seniors the cost savings of collective bargaining. The bill bans the Secretary of Health and Human Services from negotiating for lower costs of life saving drugs; leaving 40 million Americans at the whim of special interests.  Seniors will now have to turn to their HMO's (Health Maintenance Organizations) for help.   In New Jersey, we know better than to trust HMO's, as they have abandoned 79,733 New Jersey seniors since 1999.

Since the bill prohibits the federal government from addressing high prescription drug costs - and there is nothing in the bill that addresses those costs - the Republican leadership determined that privatization of Medicare is the answer.  The bill forces Medicare to compete with private managed care plans to offer senior health coverage starting in 2010.  But the deck is stacked against Medicare. This is not real competition between Medicare and private industry.  In yet another giveaway of taxpayer dollars, private managed care providers are heavily subsidized with a $12 billion slush fund.  If this isn't corporate welfare what is?
By 2013, this Republican privatization project will cost seniors from Northern New Jersey twice as much as seniors from such regions as Davidson County, North Carolina for the same benefits.  This bill completely changes a key tenet of Medicare - its ability to charge the same price for the same services regardless of where you live.  The Republican proposal went a step further and added means testing.  Medicare is no longer recognizable.

Finally, the Republican bill will destroy Medicare as we know it by limiting the amount of money that can be spent on the program.  It requires that down the road, essential services will be cut and premiums and the payroll tax will increase.  To place a cap on Medicare while drug costs continue to increase will destroy Medicare.

My fellow Democrats and some Republicans have led the charge for years to add a prescription drug benefit to Medicare. I cannot vote to destroy a program that seniors and the disabled have trusted for nearly 40 years in exchange for a feeble prescription drug benefit.  Instead of lining the pockets of insurance companies, I opposed this bill because money should be used to deliver a real benefit that maintains Medicare's promise to senior citizens.  There is nothing wrong with attempting to compromise.  But it is absolutely wrong to settle on the backs of our seniors. Don't ever settle, because once we drive out into the canyon of privatization, we are not coming back.

Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-Paterson, represents the 8th Congressional District.