"D" For Disaster
April 07, 2006
Robert M. Hayes, an attorney, is president of the Medicare Rights Center, the nation's largest independent source of information and assistance on health care rights and benefits for older and disabled men and women. He led the national and New York Coalitions for the Homeless from 1979 to 1989, and has practiced law with firms in New York and Maine.
Picture this movie: It’s 2003 in the wealthiest nation in the world and millions of Americans are suffering needlessly and dying prematurely because they cannot afford medicine.
Employers have hiked up the cost of their retiree drug coverage and pharmaceutical companies have continued to drive up the prices of life-saving prescription drugs.
Taxpayers, senior citizens, people with disabilities: be damned. We have friends to pay back.
But there is a human cost—this $700 billion package is leaving millions of older and disabled Americans worse off and millions more of them still without drug coverage.
The administration spin machine is hard at work to pretend that this tawdry story is not the reality facing the American people today.
Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt, with all the credibility of President Bush’s now 3-year-old “Mission Accomplished” speech on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln, is going around the country zanily proclaiming what a marvel this drug program is. This week Leavitt unleashed a new, glossy “Progress Report ” on the drug benefit. Page one proclaims, falsely, that “[m]ore than 27 million beneficiaries now enjoy Medicare Rx drug coverage.”
Here’s the reality: 16 million Americans with Medicare—men and women age 65 and older and people with severe, long-term disabilities—still have no drug coverage. Just 7 million Americans who were uninsured before the drug program was launched are newly insured. Six million of the poorest and frailest Americans who lost Medicaid coverage on January 1 now have inferior, less-reliable drug coverage. And the anger and dissatisfaction of people who are enrolled in drug plans increases each day as they discover how inadequate and unreliable the benefit is.
Coverage gaps, excessive out-of-pocket costs and routine denials of coverage for needed drugs are commonplace. Even enrollment in a private drug plan frequently leaves older Americans going without the medicines they need.
In this springtime of national discontent, the nation’s prescription drug program resembles the rebuilding of New Orleans and the war in Iraq. They each serve as a human tragedy, an administrative fiasco and a predictable consequence of politicians willing to squander the national treasury so long as it goes into the pockets of their mercenary supporters.