CONGRESS might have come up with a more comprehensive and less complicated prescription drug program if its members had to get their benefits from it. Medicares's new plan - called Part D - which goes into effect in 2006, is forcing senior citizens to make perplexing decisions about coverage.
Congressional sponsors of the plan are trying to put a good face on the program, which was enacted to enable President Bush to show voters that he had not forgotten domestic issues. As such, the drug plan is a sham, and an unnecessarily confusing one at that.
Moreover, experts in the field undoubtedly expected that while the new law was billed as "voluntary," many companies providing drug coverage for employees or retirees 65 and older would immediately shift workers over to the new government-subsidized program.
Columnist Paul Krugman pointed to one of its major flaws - the fact that after claimants' drug costs reach $2,250, a "doughnut" provision eliminates any coverage until the claims reach $5,100, after which the program kicks in again.
Considering that the law was drafted with special regard for the U.S. pharmaceutical industry - it prohibits the government from using its market power to bargain for lower drug prices - the hole in this bill will work hardship on millions of Americans whose drug bills can quickly rise to $5,000 or more a year.
The bill also seeks to prevent Americans from buying drugs in Canada, a stratagem that is supported by some states in this region of the country.
As The Blade noted editorially in 2004, "the so-called Medicare Reform Act of 2003 was nothing more than a hoax on the American people by the pharmaceutical and health-insurance lobbies, with the aid of their cronies, mostly Republican, in Congress."
It is ridiculous to note the folksy efforts of some of Mr. Bush's supporters in Congress to advise senior citizens, many of whom do not even own personal computers, just to log on to the Medicare Web site to find information that will enable them to make an informed decision about which drug program to sign up for.
Even some conservative Republicans, Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska among them, have expressed disgust with the budget games the Bush Administration is playing to disguise the adverse impact of even this flawed drug-coverage program on the federal budget, already hundreds of billions of dollars in the red.
It would be cold comfort, perhaps, but many Americans might feel better if members of Congress, who enjoy luxury health-insurance programs, were forced to scale back their benefits to the lowest amount that any of their countrymen will receive under this misguided program.
As Mr. Krugman pointed out, "We won't have a drug benefit that works until we have politicians who want it to work."
That's for sure. But he might have added an even greater truism: "Or until they themselves have to use it."
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