Vets Don’t Like Bush Budget; Medicare Rx Costs Raise Furor
Veterans’ groups and Democrats in Congress are fuming over the Bush presidential administration’s Veterans Affairs (VA) budget which, although it calls for an overall increase of 2.7 percent, to $71.3 billion, would also almost double a vet’s co-payment for prescription drugs and impose a $250 annual fee to receive government health care.
The increase in the co-payment for a month’s supply of prescription drugs would go from the current $7 to $15. The $250 “user fee” would impact veterans in lower priority categories who have higher incomes and do not have service-related disabilities.
Another part of the budget being attacked is a continuation of efforts to close or scale back some veterans’ hospitals. One of these is the Manhattan VA Hospital in Lower Manhattan which is used by veterans from Queens.
Speaking of the budget’s proposed increase in healthcare spending by 2.7 percent, or $800 million, Richard B. Fuller of the Paralyzed Veterans of America in Jackson Heights, said it wasn’t enough at this point in time when the number of patients is increasing. Veterans’ groups have said the budget increase in this category should be $3.5 billion.
Fuller called the $250 enrollment fee a “health care tax,” intended to raise revenue and discourage people from enrolling. Fuller also said the budget would force cutbacks in services at VA hospitals and clinics. One such clinic is located in Sunnyside.
MORE TROUBLE FOR PRESIDENT: When the Medicare Drug Prescription bill became law in late 2003, covering the program for 10 years, from 2004 to 2013, was estimated to cost $400 billion.
The $400 billion was the figure reported to Congress as it debated the bill. Some Republicans voted “yes” or the historic bill based on assurances from the White House that the $400 billion would be the cost of the program.
Two months later, in January 2004, as the presidential campaign was getting started, the original estimate was jacked up to $534 billion.
Last week, the Bush Administration again changed the cost estimate for 10 years, from 2006, when the new law goes into effect, to $720 billion for prescription drug coverage to 2015.
The original cost estimate has practically doubled and the program has not started yet.
The huge change in the cost of the program poses a serious threat. Besides the Democratic opponents of the program, many conservative Republicans are complaining about the giant increase revealed last week.
Opponents of the law want it changed for reasons beside the total cost increases. Among the provisions opponents of the bill want the government to negotiate directly with drug companies to lower drug prices which is now prohibited.
The new law also bans importation of lower-cost drugs from Canada and other foreign countries. Opponents want this stricken from the bill and a provision put in to allow imports by individuals, pharmacies and drug wholesalers.
To show how serious some Republicans are about changing the law, Republican Senator Judd Gregg (New Hampshire), who voted against the bill in 2003 and is now chairman of the important Senate Budget Committee, said last week, “I do think we are going to have to go back and readdress it.”
The unreliability of the new Medicare Prescription Drug Law costs put out by the Bush administration are also threatening to undermine the presidents’ efforts to privatize part of the Social Security program.
The administration has been saying that the 10-year costs involved in initiating the change to private accounts would be $754 billion, beginning in 2006. But the program really starts in 2009 and the 10-year costs estimated from 2009 to 2019 are in the trillions of dollars—some say $2 trillion.
Surely if the president’s Social Security reform bill ever goes before Congress, conservative Republicans who want to keep government spending down, as well as Democrats against the proposed program will all be clamoring for accurate statistics and figures for the costs involved.