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Published: Saturday, 1/28/2006

Brown slams drug program, calls for improved coverage

BY JIM TANKERSLEY
BLADE POLITICS WRITER
U.S. Rep. Sherrod Brown, a Democratic candidate for the Senate, speaks out against the new Medicare drug plan with pharmacist Bryan Coehrs and Dr. Johnathon Ross. U.S. Rep. Sherrod Brown, a Democratic candidate for the Senate, speaks out against the new Medicare drug plan with pharmacist Bryan Coehrs and Dr. Johnathon Ross.
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Days before President Bush is set to center his State of the Union address on health care, a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate blasted one of the President's signature medical initiatives in Toledo yesterday.

U.S. Rep. Sherrod Brown (D., Lorain) called the Bush-backed Medicare prescription-drug plan "the most confusing, corrupt, and costly health-care law in the nation's history" in a visit to a Pharmacy Counter store on Central Avenue.

"Customer service, or lack of it, is appalling," he said.

Mr. Brown, one of two Democrats attempting to unseat GOP Sen. Mike DeWine in November, was joined by a doctor, nurse, and pharmacist. Each ran through a list of complaints about the drug program that have grown familiar since it went into effect on Jan. 1.

The program is intended to provide prescription coverage to 42 million Americans. It has run into problems nationwide, prompting Ohio and more than half the states to step in to ensure some low-income residents get medication.

Johnathon Ross, a doctor who practices internal medicine at St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center, said his patients have experienced "tremendous delays" getting prescriptions under the new program and that he worried he would have to check some into hospitals to keep life-sustaining prescriptions coming.

Pharmacist Bryan Coehrs estimated 80 percent of his store's clients experienced problems with the new program, including difficulty getting prescriptions they need, coverage plans that do not include their prescribed medication, and long waits to get questions answered from insurance companies or federal bureaucrats.

He and Diane Kersey, a registered nurse at St. Vincent's, said they each spend more than an hour a day helping patients struggling with the program. Dr. Ross said he and the staff at his clinic have taken collections to buy prescriptions for stymied patients.

"It's very, very frustrating," Ms. Kersey said. "You're ready to pull out your hair."

Mr. Brown touted several bills he has co-sponsored or is drafting which he said would improve the drug program. One would allow patients to add prescription benefits to their Medicare coverage with the check of a box. Another would force the federal government to pay costs of ensuring patient coverage now borne by states.

His primary opponent, attorney and Iraq war veteran Paul Hackett, also criticized the prescription program in an interview yesterday.

"The most important thing is to make it less complicated and less expensive," Mr. Hackett said, "and take out some of the profits that are getting conferred on the private insurance industry - at the expense, you might say, of the elderly."

Mr. Bush and administration officials said this week that he will offer several related initiatives in the State of the Union. The proposals include expanding individual health savings accounts and limiting noneconomic damages in medical malpractice lawsuits.

Contact Jim Tankersley at:

jtankersley@theblade.com

or 419-724-6134.



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