As the U.S. Senate’s $400 billion Medicare reform bill barrels through Congress, advocates of retirees and the disabled denounced the plan Thursday at the state Capitol as a Trojan horse for the majority of beneficiaries.
"This plan is not going to provide the coverage people are expecting," said Phil Pangrazio, executive director of Phoenix-based Arizona Bridge to Independent Living, a grassroots advocacy group for the state’s disabled.
Arizona is home to 600,000 Medicare beneficiaries. Congress is expected to pass a plan by July 4.
The most widely supported plan in Congress — announced Thursday by Finance Committee chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont. — would require Medicare beneficiaries to purchase drug coverage through a government-subsidized private insurance plan. Barring availability of such plans, Medicare’s traditional fee-forservice program would be offered.
The plan would cost seniors a minimum of $35 a month for drug coverage and a $275 annual deductible. Plans would pay half of drug costs from $276 to $4,500, after which there would be no coverage until costs hit $5,800. Over that level insurance would pay all expenses.
According to figures from USAction, the Washington, D.C.-based activist group represented at Thursday’s press conference, for those spending $1,000 or less on prescription drugs, the plan forces people to pay more than they do now. The advocates also argued that by privatizing Medicare, the system loses any chance of bulk-buying prescription drugs.
The plan also jeopardizes employee-sponsored drug coverage held by about 37 percent of Medicare beneficiaries nationwide, said Dana Kennedy, who represents the Alliance for Retired Americans’ 3 million members.
If either of these plans pass, employers would have no incentive to provide their broad prescription drug benefits to retirees, Kennedy said. For these seniors, Medicare reform would mean fewer benefits, she said.
According to a survey released Thursday by the Kaiser Family Foundation, most seniors are comfortable with Medicare and don’t want private insurance companies delivering prescription drugs. However, the poll found younger Americans divided over the role of the private sector.