One of the most far-reaching pieces of legislation to overhaul the nations Medicare system is being debated right now in the Senate. If the Senate passes this contentious proposal it would add prescription drug coverage for Medicare recipients for the first time, but will this plan really benefit seniors?
Illinois is regarded by many aging Americans of having one of the best prescriptions drug plans for seniors in the country; programs like Circuit Breaker and Senior Care assure a majority of seniors that the state will assist them in paying for their medication. But Senior Care is scheduled to end in a few years. And with federal funds helping to finance it, some wonder if this program will be extended.
“My concern is that the federal funding dollars used to subsidize Circuit Breaker and Senior Care will be used to fund this Medicare drug program and force the State to eliminate these programs.” said Bob Cleveland with the Northwestern Illinois Area Agency on Aging.
The worry is because this Medicare drug program won't cover most seniors as well as state programs.
Starting in 2006, after premiums and a $275 deductible, drug costs up to $2,200 a year would be covered at 75 percent. Drug costs between $2,200 and $3,600 would not be covered at all, but above $3,600 most seniors would get 95 percent coverage, and low-income seniors 100 percent.
But many senior advocates believe that Illinois does a better job. For example; under the Medicare drug plan, with an annual prescription cost of $3,600, seniors would still have to pay $2845 out of their pocket. But under the state plans, seniors are only expected to pay $705 under Circuit Breaker even less under Senior Care.
A spokesman for U.S. Congressman Don Manzullo from Illinois says that the he supports the Medicare plan but admits that “it (Medicare Drug Plan) doesn't go far enough on its own, but believes right now it's better than nothing.
But critics aren't so sure.
"I’m saying they want to undermine the Medicare system and the next is going to be social security, make no mistake about it," said Senator Edward Kennedy (D) from Massachusetts.
So will this Medicare drug plan help? Most believe it will, but at what cost? Higher income seniors will finally have some level of prescription drug coverage and seniors below the poverty level won't have to pay much at all
But will these benefits come at the cost of eliminating the state's own drug plan for middle-income seniors? That's what the concern is.
Were also being told that the way this law is written would place the negotiating power of the price of drug costs with independent drug brokers, but the problem is most of these brokers own mail order drug stores, and the concern is will they bargain better prices for themselves then for pharmacies? That’s what’s lawmakers are trying to avoid.