New Senate GOP Chair Favors Medicare Drug Coverage
In the Senior Spotlight column of the Gazette’s December 5 issue, we wrote about Senator Bill Frist, a Republican from Tennessee, and of his hopes of reforming Medicare and adding a prescription drug benefit for Medicare members.
We noted, "With such an influential Republican seeking action on the issue, there’s a good chance legislation may be passed next year as the GOP is in control of both [Houses of Congress].
As has been announced, Frist, with the help of President George W. Bush, a good friend, was elected eight days ago to the powerful and influential position of Senate Majority Leader. In that post, he will control any legislation to come up before the Senate. In most cases, Frist, will have the votes to pass the bills he wants.
As a result, Frist, 50, a former heart surgeon, now is in a much stronger position to reform Medicare and to add drug prescription coverage for America’s seniors to that program.
Frist established himself as a good political ally of the president by helping to elect a number of Republican senators in last November’s elections to give his party control of the upper house. This got him in solid with the president, who also wants a prescription drug benefit added to Medicare. The Republican plan passed the House of Representatives last year, but the party didn’t have the votes to push it through the Senate. They have them now, and with Frist and Bush in agreement on a Medicare prescription bill, it seems likely such a bill will be passed.
Under the Bush–Frist plan, the proposed Medicare prescription plan would be administered by insurance companies, the same sort of program which created HMOs to run healthcare programs under Medicare.
The bill passed by the House Republicans last year called for those choosing to enter the program to pay a monthly premium. The federal government would pay for benefits up to a certain amount of prescription costs, and the government assistance would stop when a certain amount of drug costs was reached.
The Republican plan was not as generous overall as the Democratic plan, but the Democrats’ plan would have been far more expensive than the one the Republicans proposed to pay over a 10-year period. Frist has indicated that he supports the same fiscal policy his party pursued last year regarding creating a Medicare drug prescription coverage program.
Although most of the 40 million elderly and disabled covered by Medicare would side with the Democrats on getting greater coverage than under the Republican proposal, it’s not likely they would oppose a Republican plan that would put a program on the books and provide some savings.
Frist has one other objective regarding the 37-year-old Medicare program—to consider longer-term restructuring of it in anticipation of millions of baby boomers becoming eligible to join it.
"Are we ready for really bold change now?" Frist asked in a recent interview on the issue. "I think we are."
Frist had outlined his goals for reforming Medicare since shortly after the November elections, which catapulted his party into control of both Houses of Congress. Now in a much stronger position to pursue his goals, and with President Bush a strong ally, there seems to be a reasonable certainty the Republicans will make major headway on this important issue for seniors.
DOCS’ MEDICARE PAYMENTS FACE CUT: Still on the subject of Medicare, the Bush Administration announced on December 20 that beginning Mar. 1, 2003, payments to doctors serving Medicare patients will be cut in the new year by 4.4 percent, after a 5.4 percent cut last year. The move is likely to drive many doctors out of the program, which will irritate many seniors who have long-term relationships with their physicians.
Congress could overturn the move but that may be difficult, considering the Republicans control the House of Representatives.
Administration officials said they made the move to try to control spiraling healthcare costs, but leaders of doctor organizations argued that physicians were already hurt by previous cuts in Medicare payments. Many lawmakers are on record favoring increased payments to doctors, so there could be a lively debate on the issue in coming months.
MEETINGS: There will be a Tai Chi demonstration and musical entertainment at next Wednesday’s first meeting of 2003 of the AARP Chapter No. 2889 at the First Presbyterian Church of Newtown, 54-05 Seabury St., Elmhurst, at 12:30 p.m.
The National Association of Retired Federal Employees (NARFE), Astoria/Long Island City Chapter No. 1871, will meet next Thursday, January 9 at 1 p.m. at the Catholic War Veterans Hall, 45-06 30th Ave., Long Island City. For information, call (718) 932-0661.