Carper Calls on Congress to Make Changes to Medicare Drug Law

Supports Legislation to Automatically Enroll Low-Income Seniors in Drug Card; Allowing Government to Negotiate for Lower Drug Prices

WILMINGTON (August 20, 2004) — Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., today urged Congress to pass legislation that would improve last year’s Medicare prescription drug benefit by automatically enrolling low-income seniors in the drug discount card and allowing the government to negotiate lower drug prices for seniors in Medicare. Carper acknowledged that the new benefit passed by Congress in 2003 wasn’t perfect and that the discount card has been met with some confusion. But he said Congress was in a great position to take steps before the end of the year to improve the benefit and help seniors meet the growing prices of prescription drugs. “Seniors don’t want the Medicare drug benefit repealed, they want it to work better,” said Carper. Carper has cosponsored legislation, authored by Sens. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., and Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., that would automatically enroll low-income seniors (those with incomes below 135 percent of poverty) in the drug discount card program, an intermediary program meant to help seniors defray drug costs until the full Medicare prescription drug benefit kicks into effect in 2006. The discount card is not for everyone, and some seniors may be better off not enrolling and sticking with other health insurance programs, Carper said. But for low-income seniors (singles earning below $12,569 and couples earning below $16,862), the discount card means tangible and significant savings. Low-income seniors can enroll in the discount card program for free and are given $600 annually for drug costs. Low-income seniors would then pay a co-payment of just 5 to 10 percent for each prescription drug, could opt-out of the program, or simply not use the savings if they choose. The problem, according to Carper, is that many seniors remain unaware of the card’s potential benefits. A recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation estimated that only 14 percent of Americans and 18 percent of those over the age of 65 know that low-income assistance was even included in the new Medicare law. Carper said the best way, then, to ensure that low-income seniors get the coverage they’re entitled to is to automatically enroll them in the new discount program. “We should pass legislation that would make sure that those who would benefit most from the discount drug card get the savings they deserve,” said Carper. “By automatically enrolling low-income seniors, we guarantee that they will save money. It’s a simple thing to do and it’s the right thing to do.” Carper also has sponsored legislation, written by Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., that would repeal language in the new Medicare drug law that specifically prevented the federal government from using its purchasing power to lower the cost of prescription drugs. Carper noted that the federal government, through many veterans and military health programs, already has the power to negotiate drug prices. But the authors of the new drug card ignored that precedent and prohibited the government from using the purchasing power of the Medicare-eligible population to lower the price the government and seniors pay for prescription drugs. “If the government were able to negotiate lower prices for prescription drugs, then both seniors and taxpayers would benefit,” said Carper. “This legislation would make it easier to enable the federal government to look at various options to curb increases in the cost of prescription drugs. This kind of change is simple and it makes sense.”