Congressman discusses Medicare
prescription drug benefit
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Ray LaHood's Capitol view:
Prescription drug benefit long overdue
Almost 40 years ago, when
Medicare was brought into existence under President Lyndon Johnson,
our country's health care system was vastly different than today.
House calls by doctors were still commonplace. The terms HMO, PPO,
pre-existing conditions and preventative medicine were not really
found in our vocabulary for health care. Many people had a much more
direct connection to their doctor than they do today.
Medicare, though, has been stuck in
this 1960s world, while the world of health care has evolved into
the 21st century. One of the biggest advances over the past 40 years
has been in the area of prescription drugs. Many of the drugs
available today are truly lifesavers for many people. New drugs are
coming on the market every day that help people live healthier and
longer lives. And while Medicare continues to be a vital program to
help protect the health of our nation's senior citizens, the program
has not helped to provide those lifesaving drugs to the people who
need them the most.
The Medicare prescription drug bill
passed by Congress helps modernize the program to meet the needs of
today's seniors by offering a voluntary benefit under the program.
Let me stress that again: This is a voluntary program. The bill also
helps prepare Medicare for the major demographic shift that will
take place over the next 20 years: the movement of baby boomers into
There is no denying the fact that, as
every year passes, fewer and fewer seniors are covered under a
prescription drug plan through a private company. A decade ago, 40
percent of firms offered this coverage to retirees. Today that
percentage is 30 percent. This bill tackles that problem head on by
providing incentives to employers to continue offering prescription
drug coverage to retirees
By creating a drug benefit under
Medicare, this bill also addresses the problem faced by the
one-third of all people age 65 and over -- almost half a million
people in Illinois -- who currently do not have drug coverage. They
now will have coverage under Medicare.
This is a good bill that will have
tangible benefits for our seniors. In order to have enough time to
make sure the program is set up and run efficiently and properly,
the guaranteed benefit of prescription drugs takes effect in 2006.
Leading up to that date, seniors will have access to immediate
savings through a prescription drug discount card that will be
available by next spring. Seniors will be able to use this card at
the point of purchase to obtain significant, immediate savings of up
to 25 percent on prescription drugs.
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The prescription drug program is fully
voluntary. If you currently have a prescription drug plan, you are
not required to participate in the Medicare drug plan. It will
provide an option to seniors to simply add drug coverage to
traditional fee-for-service Medicare without any loss of current
benefits. The drug benefit will have a $35 monthly premium and a
$275 annual deductible. Medicare will pay 75 percent of drug costs
up to $2,200 annually and 95 percent of costs over $3,600 a year.
Comprehensive coverage will be provided under the plan for seniors
who are low-income.
One aspect of the bill that I was
particularly pleased with is the help it provides to rural
hospitals. There are many rural hospitals throughout the 20 counties
of the 18th District, and the continued viability of these
facilities is extremely important to the patients they serve. Since
1983, urban hospitals have been paid at a higher reimbursement rate
than other hospitals. This bill equalizes those payments so that
rural hospitals will receive billions in much-needed relief over the
This bill will also help the state of
Illinois to climb out of the budget deficit it now faces. Over
160,000 Illinoisans who currently get prescription drugs under
Medicaid will now have those costs paid by Medicare, saving the
state $785 million over eight years on Medicaid drug costs.
The issue of a prescription drug
benefit under Medicare has been discussed for many years. After a
long struggle, we have finally succeeded in getting a plan into law.
I believe this is a good plan. Critics of this bill are only trying
to score partisan points for political gain, instead of hailing a
major achievement in improving the well-being of our nation's
this new benefit will modernize the 40-year-old Medicare program and
help our seniors take advantage of prescription drugs that will let
them live longer and healthier lives.
[18th Congressional District
Rep. Ray LaHood, Peoria]