Democrats hear from angry seniors on Medicare; Leavitt visits with governors |

Democrats hear from angry seniors on Medicare; Leavitt visits with governors

WASHINGTON – Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt said Friday that “SWAT teams of technicians” were working to improve the new Medicare drug benefit.Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, senior citizens and pharmacists complained to Democratic lawmakers of being put on hold endlessly as they tried to get prescriptions filled.”Unfortunately, the start of the new prescription drug benefit would be described by many patients and pharmacists as a nightmare,” said Tim Tucker, a pharmacist from Huntington, Tenn., who is a member of the American Pharmacists Association Board of Trustees.Tucker spoke at a hearing organized by Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif. Only Democratic lawmakers attended. Tucker said he saw some good things occurring at his pharmacy since the government began subsidizing the cost of prescription drugs.”Some of my patients are returning to my practice because they are now able to afford their medications,” he said.However, he described the first few weeks overall as a fiasco. And he placed the blame with the prescription drug plans themselves. Many were not prepared, and some have yet to improve, he said.Leavitt, who visited Wisconsin, Ohio and Alabama on Friday to hear from state officials, agreed with that assessment. “I would also acknowledge that some of the insurance plans did not properly anticipate the level of service that would be required,” he said.Under the drug program, about 42 million senior citizens and disabled are eligible to enroll in private plans run by insurers and pharmaceutical benefit companies. The government subsidizes the drug coverage, with additional subsidies provided for the poor.Leavitt said two other problems occurred.First, many participants automatically enrolled by the government into plans found another that they preferred. However, they waited until late December to make the switch. Their status was not updated before Jan. 1, so pharmacists could not locate their files to determine how much to charge them.Secondly, large data files transferred from states to the federal government, or from the federal government to an insurance plan, contained errors. That meant people who had previously received their drugs through Medicaid did not make it into a Medicare plan.”It continues to get better every day,” Leavitt said.But Ruth Grunberg from Cortland, N.Y., told Democrats that her pharmacist’s computer rejected her card on Jan. 1, as if she didn’t even exist, and she spent days trying to rectify the problem.”I was starting to feel like the people trapped in the incompetency of the response to Katrina,” Grunberg said.Vail, Colorado

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