Bush: Medicare prescription drug plan is a good deal | VailDaily.com

Bush: Medicare prescription drug plan is a good deal

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – President Bush, trying to rouse public interest in the new Medicare prescription drug benefit, urged seniors in the Midwest on Tuesday to sign up for the program before the May 15 deadline.”I’m just telling you it’s a good deal,” he said.Bush’s visits with seniors in Missouri and Iowa are part of the administration’s grass-roots effort to ramp up enrollment in the program, which suffered startup problems and continues to be criticized as too confusing.”It doesn’t cost a dime to look and you’re going to save money,” said Bush, who is hosting another Medicare prescription drug event on Wednesday at Northern Virginia Community College in suburban Washington. “Seniors are saving about half on their prescription drug charges already. If you’re a poor senior, the government is going to pay over 95 percent.”More than 1,000 enrollment seminars are being held across the country each week to educate seniors about their options. Bush stopped at a senior center here where retirees, who had learned about the program, wore stickers that read, “I signed up. Have you?”Mark McClellan, Bush’s chief Medicare official who traveled with him on the trip, said more than 29 million seniors have enrolled so far. That number, however, includes at least 20 million people who were automatically enrolled because of their participation in other government programs, such as Medicaid, or are getting drug coverage through their former employer. McClellan said seniors are signing up at a rate of about 400,000 each week.Democrats opposed to the program claim the plan was written by lobbyists and will cost nearly double what the president first claimed – $700 billion during the next decade compared with early estimates of $400 billion over 10 years.”As seniors around the country know, a drug program written by the special interests and for the special interests is fundamentally flawed,” said Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. “It’s the wrong prescription for Medicare, and seniors deserve better.”Bush is working to turn the nation’s attention to his domestic agenda as his presidency continues to be dogged by ongoing violence in Iraq and persistent questions surrounding the White House’s role in the leaking of sensitive prewar intelligence.Bush’s job approval rating is stuck in the 30s, which is not helping the GOP as it works to retain control of Congress in this year’s midterm elections. The president’s day trip had a political component too.In Iowa, besides talking with seniors about the prescription drug program, Bush was raising money for Rep. Jim Nussle, R-Iowa, an eight-term congressman who is the only GOP candidate running for governor of the state.Sen. Jim Talent, R-Mo., who is seeking re-election, appeared with Bush. Vice President Dick Cheney was the headliner at a Talent fundraiser in Springfield on Monday night, and first lady Laura Bush hosted a fundraiser for Talent last week.Talent, who supports the prescription drug program, has held 48 town meetings since Congress passed the law. His opponent, Democratic State Auditor Claire McCaskill, said she supports offering a Medicare drug benefit through private plans, but complained the Medicare Part D program is too confusing and costs too much. McCaskill wants the enrollment period extended through the end of the year.She plans to begin a 10-city RV tour through rural Missouri on Wednesday, focusing on the Medicare plan, access to health care and the need to reduce drug costs for seniors.”I think it probably needs to be changed to Medicare Part F,” McCaskill said. “I think the ‘D’ is too generous of a grade.”Public opinion about the prescription drug plan – which was very negative in January – is showing gradual signs of improvement among seniors as more people enroll in the plan and get to see the savings, said Bill McInturff, a Republican pollster who helps conduct the NBC-Wall Street Journal poll. “There’s no question that the data in January and February was a problem for Repubicans, but it’s getting a little better.”Meanwhile, Democratic lawmakers urged Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt to move quicker to reimburse states that stepped in to help beneficiaries get medicine during the program’s troubled early weeks.”The Medicare drug program has posed an undue burden on the states, as well as for people who formerly received drug coverage through Medicaid,” said a letter from nine House lawmakers. “As such, it is imperative that your agency release these funds immediately.”Vail, Colorado

Support Local Journalism