The prescription drug law ripoff

People’s Health

We just saw, courtesy the Toledo Union Journal, the most coherent explanation yet of who pays how much under GOP President George W. Bush’s Medicare prescription drugs law. Since the law takes effect Jan. 1, and since W is already pushing it with taxpayer-paid radio and TV ads — and trying to get the credit — we thought we’d summarize the explanation so seniors would know what they’re getting into.

The explanation comes from Dick Romanowski’s column for retirees in the union paper. Here’s much of what he says:

“The individual pays the first $250 in annual drug costs each year. This is called the $250 deductible.

“The individual pays 25 percent of the next $2,000 in annual drug costs, so the program pays up to $1,500 and the individual pays up to $500.” (Romanowski doesn’t say whether you have to pay the $500 before the feds kick in their share.)

“So that is a total of $250 deductible and $500 of the next $2,000, which comes to a total of $750 you pay for the first $2,250 of prescription drug bills.”

If you’re keeping score, by the way, that means Bush’s drug plan forces seniors to pay one-third of their costs during the first $2,250 of spending. Somehow we have a feeling that under present prescription drug insurance, if you have it as a retiree through Medicare or your former employer, you aren’t on the hook for that much.

“Now here comes the first back-breaker of this program,” Romanowski continues. “After the first $2,250 in annual cost, the new Medicare drug coverage pays nothing and you pay the next $2,850 in prescription bills!” (His italics.)

“So for a total annual prescription bill of $5,350, you would have to pay $3,350 of that in prescription bills under the Medicare drug coverage.”

If you’re still keeping score, instead of paying for one-third of your prescription drug costs, you’re now up to paying 62.6 percent.

“Here is the next kick in the teeth,” Romanowski continues. “You choose to join this prescription program.” That’s $384 a year, plus the $3,350 a senior would already pay, he adds.

One point Romanowski forgets: The Locomotive Engineers said sign-up for Bush’s plan starts Nov. 15 and is allegedly voluntary. But if you enroll after May 15, 2006, you pay a higher monthly premium and a late-enrollment penalty, they report.

There are other provisions in Bush’s prescription drugs plan, Romanowski notes. One lets the drug companies charge whatever they can get away with for your drugs. Medicare can’t negotiate the lowest prices with them. Another provision says you can keep your own retiree drug coverage “as long as it is as good as” the Bush plan.

But the whole point is that Bush’s prescription drugs plan, called Medicare Part D, sounds like a giant ripoff. Maybe we should call it Medicare Part F — as in “flunk.”

At any rate, let’s push lawmakers to repeal it before it gets off the ground. Then force them to put a real prescription drug benefit that helps seniors, not drug companies, in place. And then next fall, throw out the legislative bums who gave such a bonanza to the drug companies while sticking seniors with the price tag.