CARA convention vows to fight Bush agenda

LOS ANGELES — On the heels of a stunning Special Election victory, the California Alliance for Retired Americans (CARA) held its second annual convention, “Turning outrage into action,” in Anaheim Nov. 9-10.

The first day was packed with workshops on everything from effective lobbying techniques to an educational on SB 840, Sen. Sheila Kuehl’s proposal to provide comprehensive health insurance to all Californians. From the start it was made clear that CARA supports a national health insurance program, but that should not preclude CARA members from fighting for a state program. Emily Gold, representing Kuehl’s office, pointed out that a state program would automatically roll into any federal program like HR 676.

CARA delegates voted to work on three political goals for the coming year. First, CARA will commit itself to the campaign to preserve Social Security. State Treasurer Phil Angelides — called “the anti-Arnold” because he is running for governor next year on a pro-worker platform — told the delegates, “I benefited from the social programs of the ’50s and ’60s.” Angelides said guaranteed student loans helped him stay in school when his father was unemployed for three years.

CARA also pledged to fight against privatization of pensions and to work to overturn the recently passed Medicare “Part D” prescription plan. State insurance commissioner John Garamendi explained that it is impossible to develop a pricing matrix because with 47 stand-alone insurance choices in the state, the top 100 drugs used by seniors would result in 56,400 different pricing options. Seniors would have to use the Internet to enroll in Plan D coverage, and then be confronted with the price comparisons for each plan. For the first time in its history, a part of Medicare is totally in private hands, and the government is banned by law from negotiating pricing with the drug companies.

David Grant of Senior Action Network said the new law presents many dangers to retirees. Pensioners covered by a union health plan can lose their entire coverage if they select another prescription plan. Coverage would be locked in, and the consumer would not be allowed to return to the old plan. To press retirees to do just that, Grant said, the Bush prescription law has a permanent late enrollment penalty of up to 120 percent. On top of all this, a gigantic “donut hole” leaves subscribers paying for most of their drug costs before the plan picks up any costs. Garamendi said the plan is not really insurance at all, but a measure to shift costs onto the backs of consumers.

CARA is not waiting for the new law to take effect. Petitions to members of congress call for the law to be replaced with legislation that preserves and strengthens traditional Medicare. Such legislation would provide a new and affordable prescription drug benefit that uses the purchasing power of the federal government to control prices and end drug company price gouging, as well as protections against forcing seniors into profit-first HMO plans against their will. The petitions are available by calling CARA toll-free at (877) 223-6107 or via their web site, www.californiaalliance.org.