If Medicare Part “D” Ain’t Broke, Will Sen. Whitehouse Still Try to Fix it?
I remember during the recent RI Senate race that Senator-elect Whitehouse made much of Healthcare, and, in particular, the “broken” Medicare Part “D” program (prescription drugs). In fact, it was number one on his Health Care reform To-Do list. While he was holding “the hands of seniors who are desperately afraid that they’ll wake up one day to find that the medicines they need the most are beyond their reach,” Whitehouse proposed that the Medicare Part “D” plan be “scrapped” and cited the Washington Post, which reported “only 1.4 million people – a fraction of the 8 million eligible – have signed up for the new benefit, despite a $400 million campaign by the Bush administration.”
Well, now the Washington Post (via Barone) has reported this:
Oooh, I know, I know! An election year issue to scare senior citizens!
It sounded simple enough on the campaign trail: Free the government to negotiate lower drug prices and use the savings to plug a big gap in Medicare’s new prescription-drug benefit. But as Democrats prepare to take control of Congress, they are struggling to keep that promise without wrecking a program that has proven cheaper and more popular than anyone imagined…
Polls indicate that more than 80 percent of enrollees are satisfied, even though nearly half chose plans with no coverage in the doughnut hole, a gap that opens when a senior’s drug costs reach $2,250 and closes when out-of-pocket expenses reach $3,600. By the latest estimates, 3 million to 4 million seniors will hit the doughnut hole this year and pay full price for drugs while also paying drug-plan premiums.
The cost of the program has been lower than expected, about $26 billion in 2006, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. The cost was projected to rise to $45 billion next year, but Medicare has received new bids indicating that its average per-person subsidy could drop by 15 percent in 2007, to $79.90 a month.
Urban Institute President Robert D. Reischauer, a former director of the Congressional Budget Office, called that a remarkable record for a new federal program.
Initially, he said, people were worried no private plans would participate. “Then too many plans came forward,” Reischauer said. “Then people said it’s going to cost a fortune. And the price came in lower than anybody thought. Then people like me said they’re low-balling the prices the first year and they’ll jack up the rates down the line. And, lo and behold, the prices fell again. And the reaction was, ‘We’ve got to have the government negotiate lower prices.’ At some point you have to ask: What are we looking for here?”