2003-01-08 / Seniors


Schumer To Bush:
By John Toscano


Schumer To Bush: ‘Restore Heating Aid Cuts’

United States Senator Charles Schumer (D–New York) urged President George W. Bush last Thursday to restore $300 million which he has cut from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) for 2003.

The program, which helps 80,000 households in New York state, offers a variety of assistance, including subsidizing home heating bills, installing more fuel-efficient heating systems and weather stripping windows.

Congress appropriated $1.7 billion for the program in the 2002 budget, Schumer said, but the Bush Administration cut that amount to $1.4 billion in the 2003 fiscal year budget.

"We’ll be making a big push to get the program restored," Schumer said.

There could be more need for the program this winter, which already has brought freezing rain and snow storms, and a forecast for a 41 percent increase in heating prices, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. With unemployment in the state at 8 percent, the picture gets ugly.

Benefits are based on family income. Many of the beneficiaries are seniors.

PREZ TO STEP UP FOR MEDICARE REFORM, Rx BENEFITS? As we’ve pointed out in several recent columns, U.S. Senator Bill Frist of North Carolina, the Republican Majority Leader, is a strong advocate of adding prescription drug coverage to Medicare and there was a good chance he would succeed in this, given his new leadership position.

Now comes a story out of Washington that later this month Bush is expected to propose long-term changes in Medicare, including adding prescription drug coverage for Medicare members who want the benefit. It would be difficult for Democrats to oppose this, even if they believe it doesn’t go far enough or that the plan might favor private insurance companies.

The report says the president’s proposal likely will closely resemble plans put forth in the past by Frist, Republican and heart surgeon. The crux of these plans is to foster competition between traditional Medicare and private health plans, such as those offered by HMOs. The changes would be designed to lower costs and perhaps increase premiums for those among the 40 million Medicare members who would opt for such a feature. Even without special coverages, both GOP and Dem plans for prescription coverage under Medicare call for an additional premium besides the standard premium charged for membership in the program. This year the premium amounts to $58.70 per month per member.

CHEAPER DRUGS: A recent report out of Albany tells of some Seneca Indian businessmen selling prescription drugs at lower prices than regular pharmacies via mail order. A chain drug organization contends that, if continued, the sales will drive pharmacies out of New York state.

The Native Americans’ operation offers popular brand name prescription drugs cheaper by as much as 40 percent than major domestic pharmacy chains. This practice may not be legal since the Food & Drug Administration bans the import of drugs from Canada, where the sales come from.

Native American nations have sovereign rights in some cases and a court decision will probably be required to determine the legalities.

The Senecas take orders for prescriptions by e-mail, phone, fax or mail. They fill out the orders from a warehouse in Canada, hiring pharmacists to fill the orders after purchasing the drugs at wholesale prices from Canadian concerns, the report said.

An official of the Statewide Senior Action Council, a grassroots advocacy group, hailed the Seneca operation, but spokespersons for chain drug stores said they think the practice is illegal and will drive drug stores out of the state.

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