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Wednesday, November 26, 2014
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Published: Sunday, 1/22/2006

Unfair Medicare mandate

Go ahead, name a major endeavor of the federal government that was founded on deceit, poorly planned, will cost far more than anyone dreamed, and has spawned all sorts of unintended consequences.

If you picked the war in Iraq, you probably aren't one of 1.3 million older Americans struggling to get prescriptions filled under the new Medicare drug benefit.

And now widespread confusion over the mechanics of the drug plan has put the fiscal onus for getting drugs to people who need them squarely on cash-strapped state governments, like Ohio's, which already are hard-pressed to meet their own budgets.

When many seniors initially found payment for their drugs refused by the private insurance companies the government is subsidizing to provide the coverage, the states - at least 20 so far - stepped in to make emergency purchases on behalf of people with chronic illnesses and conditions who couldn't wait for the bureaucratic snafu to be unraveled.

The response from Medicare to state officials was terse: We can't pay you; get your money back from the insurance companies. So the states must shoulder the cost of filing claims to recover the funds, with no real assurance they will.

Naturally, shifting such a huge and unplanned responsibility to the states doesn't sit well with Arkansas' Republican governor, Mike Huckabee, who is chairman of the National Governors Association.

"We're doing the federal government a favor," Mr. Huckabee said. "We're in essence loaning them money while they get their problems worked out Now we're going to not only become the bank, but the collection agency? Next, we'll be manufacturing the drugs and selling them."

The governor is right. The federal government - read the Bush Administration - created this boondoggle, with slavish ascent from the Republican Congress. And the states should not have to bear the cost or the administrative hassle.

No one should be surprised, however.

The program only squeaked through Congress after its true cost was secretly low-balled by administration personnel, who claimed it would run about $400 billion over 10 years. Estimates now are more than $700 billion.

Now that the benefit is in place for some 3.6 million new retirees, it's up to the White House to make it right before too many people get hurt.



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