Medicare Prescription Drug Bill will Impact Seniors' Health Care
As a doctor in family practice, my life's work and day-to-day passion have exposed me to the plight of many of our nation's seniors who do not have access to affordable prescription drugs. For seniors on Medicare, this access has become even more difficult in recent years.
Medicare was designed and implemented nearly 40 years ago, and that in that time, health care has progressed by leaps and bounds. Forty years ago, prescription drugs consumed a much smaller share of this market, and patients needed surgery, nursing home residences, emergency room visits and various other expensive services much more often.
But drug companies have made marvelous progress developing new drugs that treat many more illnesses and conditions, reducing the need for and frequency of these expensive procedures. Even so, Medicare beneficiaries are seemingly stuck in a forty-year time warp because many can't afford these miracle drugs.
That is why I joined with Senator Rodney Ellis during the 78th Legislative Session in authoring the "Fair Market Prescription Drug Pricing and Prescription Drug Assistance Program" (Senate Bill 797). This bill sought to lower the price of prescription drugs provided by Medicaid and other state programs, and make prescription drugs more affordable, even for people without insurance.
More recently, I participated in a Community Health Care forum in Mesquite sponsored by Congressman Jeb Hensarling. He asked me to provide a state-of-the-state with regard to health care issues. Following my report, many of our constituents stated their real concern for prescription drug coverage within the Medicare program. Currently, many low-income seniors receive their medication through Texas' Medicaid program. But with the state in a budget deficit this year, Texas cannot afford to provide a drug benefit for all of its seniors in the years ahead. Congress is poised to do something about this problem within the next few weeks, and I believe they should.
There are 10 million senior citizens in this country who have no prescription drug coverage at all. They desperately need prescription drug coverage, and Congress can help by approving a prescription drug benefit within the federal Medicare program. Now is the time to bring Medicare into the 21st Century and empower older Americans to live longer and more productive lives.
Congress will soon consider a Medicare prescription drug benefit that has reached the final stages of negotiation and approval. But final passage must be won before we can declare victory for all seniors. And declare victory we should; the proposals being considered are exactly on track in my view. For instance, the prescription drug benefit currently being considered by Congress would encourage employers to continue coverage of prescription drugs for retirees. At present, many employers are dropping this coverage. Various components of the Medicare prescription drug benefit legislation would make continuing employer drug coverage cheaper in the long-term, to encourage them to preserve this benefit so that fewer elderly Americans would ultimately have to rely upon Medicare for health care coverage.
Of the seniors who do possess some prescription drug coverage, many of their plans are limited and do not provide adequate care. HMO coverage often includes various limits to care, Medigap coverage does not include catastrophic coverage for prescription drugs, and employer-sponsored coverage is increasingly subject to greater restriction. Congress can provide adequate care by working now to pass a prescription drug benefit that will enable 93% of seniors to utilize a complete prescription drug benefit.
Our nation's seniors are waiting for Congress to approve a prescription drug benefit that encourages them to participate in the program as customers as well as beneficiaries. Each senior participating in the program would contribute approximately $1 per day towards the cost of their premium, and in return realize a 50% decrease in their overall drug costs. This is a long step in the direction of progress and will carry us forward into the 21st Century - as Medicare's designers intended.
These proposals are part of a comprehensive framework that would give seniors more reliable and affordable options for health care coverage, and will keep Medicare's benefits financially secure. This plan is about options and choices for seniors, and it will allow seniors to keep the coverage they currently have with no changes if they choose.
Having worked in the medical field for many years, I cannot emphasize enough the need to pass a Medicare prescription drug benefit bill to empower beneficiaries with choice, competitive prices, a reasonable and affordable contribution and the benefits of bulk purchasing - all of which will work to contain costs on a larger scale by keeping our seniors health and out of the hospital.
Bob Deuell, M.D., is a family physician and partner in Primary Care Associates of Greenville. He also represents District 2 in the Texas Senate.