NEW HAVEN, Conn. – Unable to get heard on the floor of the House, over 70 members of Congress convened town hall meetings in their home districts over the weekend to expose the truth about the phony prescription drug plan that passed the House by only one vote.

Nearly 300 seniors, who crowded into the community room at Bella Vista housing complex July 19 to hear from Rep. Rosa DeLauro, applauded her commitment to vote against any bill that goes in the direction of privatizing Medicare.

“Medicare and Social Security have raised our older Americans out of poverty,” said DeLauro. “This is about the values we have as a nation.”

DeLauro spelled out the weaknesses of the bills that passed the House and Senate and are now in conference committee. One of the worst features is the cut-off of prescription drug benefits once expenditures reach $2,000, not resuming until they exceed $4,900. Monthly premiums must continue to be paid during that time.

In addition, the cost of premiums, deductible and co-pay will increase as prescription drug prices rise on the market. Moreover, the bill would outlaw negotiation for cheaper prescription prices in bulk. The plan would not begin until 2006. By 2010 it would penalize those who choose to stay with Medicare.

“This is a critical moment,” DeLauro told the seniors. “We need your activism. This is going to affect your lives sooner rather than later.”

The pharmaceutical industry is spending millions of dollars on a national television and radio ad campaign, sponsored by the Partnership for Safe Medicines and The Senior Coalition (TSC). Having emerged in the 2002 congressional elections to support Republicans, the phony TSC is now opposing a bipartisan proposal for re-importation of prescription drugs from Canada, England, France and Germany where they are sold at a much lower price.

The misleading ads claim these drugs are unsafe. DeLauro cited FDA official William Hubbard’s assurance that of the millions who have traveled to Canada for prescriptions to date, no unsafe case has arisen.

“The corporations are working on our minds and trying to put us against ourselves,” warned retired labor leader Carmen Romano. “We have to fight the greedy for the needy. We can march on Washington. We have to stick together and fight like hell,” he said to loud applause.

“Bush is raising $200 to $300 million for the elections from businessmen,” said retired UNITE leader Nick Aiello. “They expect to get repaid by privatizing Medicare and Social Security.”

Bush allies, Rep. Bill Thomas (R-Calif.), chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, and Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Penn.), have both openly called for the end of Medicare.

Aiello, who is organizing with the labor-affiliated Association of Retired Americans and the National Committee to Protect Social Security and Medicare, urged everyone to “stay with Medicare.”

The seniors signed letters to Congress expressing their opinion against the bills under consideration. “We’ve been fighting for prescription drug coverage for years, and we’ll keep fighting,” said one Bella Vista resident. “With the plan they offer, we are better off without it.”

The author can be reached at joelle.fishman@pobox.com

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