2005-06-22 / Seniors

Pres. Bush Starts Campaign To Sign Up Seniors For Rx Program

DC 37, the city’s largest municipal union, with 1 million members, has advised its retired members not to apply for the new federal government prescription drug benefit which will start next January 1. In an article in the June edition of its membership bulletin, Public Employee Press , Rosaria R. Esperon, administrator of the union’s health and security program, advised the retirees to sit tight and continue in the organzation’s drug plan rather than enter the new drug program under Medicare, called Part D.

Another DC 37 official, Retirees Association President Stuart Leibowitz, supported Esperon’s advice, saying, “You’re better off with your DC 37 benefit.” He noted that the union’s benefit offers lower out-of-pocket expenses than those under the federal drug program. Leibowitz also noted that Part D has a costly gap in coverage.

The article opened by saying that the Bush presidential administration, which created the new Rx coverage, had planned to mail out applications for the new Part D coverage by the end of May.

“For DC retirees who get those mailings, the best place to file the forms is in the trash,” the article said, mincing no words.

Summarizing the cost implications of Part D, the article said participants will pay an estimated $35 a month for the new benefit, a $250 annual deductible and a 25 percent co-payment on all purchases from $250 to $2,250.

But the major drawback of the new Medicare option, the article emphasized, is a huge gap in coverage, which has been dubbed “the donut hole” between $2,250 and $5,100 where participants must pay the complete cost of purchases.

After the $5,100 threshold, Medicare will pay 95 percent of the cost of prescription drugs.

In contrast, the article pointed out, DC 37’s drug benefit has no gap, no monthly fee and no annual deductible.

Throughout 2005, with Jan. 1, 2006 the anticipated start of the Medicare drug option, the federal government, health maintenance organizations and private prescription drug providers will be contacting seniors to sign up for Medicare Part D. Under the program, Medicare members will be able to obtain the traditional Medicare program or a private sector health plan.

Private drug coverage plans like that of DC 37 have been given the option under the legislation which set up Part D coverage to continue serving their members or ending that coverage and letting members decide what new coverage they will seek.

Critics of the new Medicare prescription law have been agitating for two changes in the statute which prevent the federal government from trying to get lower drug prices from pharmaceutical firms.

One provision in the law bars the federal government from attempting to negotiate to get reduced drug prices or discounts because of the huge amounts of drug products which the United States purchases. Other major purchasers already enjoy the lower, discounted price.

A second provision in the law prevents individuals from purchasing drugs from overseas—Canada or Mexico, for example—where drugs are available at a lower cost than those sold in the U.S.

LOBBY FOR LOWER DRUG PRICES: One of the agencies fighting for lower drug prices, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), took a group of Queens seniors on a lobbying trip to Albany last week.

The seniors met with sponsors of a bill that would require pharmacies to post retail drug prices to a New York state Web site and with sponsors of a second bill requiring drug companies to disclose how much they spend marketing to physicians.

According to David Irwin of AARP New York, who directed the lobbying event, the seniors pointed out to the legislators how drug prices have risen in recent years.

In a release Irwin stated that between June 2003 and June 2004, prices of some of the drugs most widely used by older Americans rose by 7.6 percent, or 3.5 times the rate of inflation. In 2003, he said, the average price of a retail prescription in New York was $63.34, $10 more than the average United States cost of a prescription. More than 300,000 AARP members in New York pay the full retail price for their drugs.

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