Says Medicare Plan Not Perfect But Needed; Urges States, Others to Help Fill in Gaps
Nov 25 2003
WASHINGTON- Saying now was the time to deliver a prescription drug plan to seniors, Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., today joined 10 other Democrats in voting for legislation that would provide a $400 billion prescription drug benefit under Medicare. The bill passed the Senate on a 54-44 vote, and will now be sent to the president to be signed into law. Carper said the plan was not perfect, noting a coverage gap in the bill as well as a lack of adequate long-term cost-control measures. But he said he voted for the legislation because it adhered to his basic principles - the drug program is voluntary, the benefit helps those who need it the most, and states and employers that currently provide drug coverage are given substantial incentives to continue providing those benefits to seniors. "When I ran for the Senate, I promised that I would work to add a prescription drug benefit to Medicare," said Senator Carper. "This bill is not everything I would like it to be, but I feel strongly that we can no longer afford to sit back and do nothing at all. It's time to finally deliver on our promises and take the first step, even if it is limited, toward providing a drug benefit under Medicare." While the benefit would provide assistance to low-income seniors, Carper acknowledged that many middle-income seniors with substantial drug bills would still have to spend a good deal of their own money. Specifically, under the plan, middle-income seniors would have to pay 100 percent of the costs of their annual drug bill if it were between $2250 and $5100 annually. Carper criticized this so-called "donut hole" in the coverage and implored states, employers and private groups to help fill those gaps in coverage. Delaware, for instance, could theoretically save money now that Medicare will pick up many seniors currently covered under the state's own prescription drug benefit. Carper said the state could use those savings to "wrap around" the Medicare benefit to reduce the size of the coverage gap and provide more generous benefits to seniors. He also urged private foundations, such as Nemours, which currently helps Delaware supplement prescription drug coverage for low-income seniors, to redirect such dollars to where they will now be most needed. "There is a real opportunity here for a significant public-private and federal-state partnership to provide our nation's seniors with a quilt of comprehensive coverage for their drug bills," said Carper. "My hope is that Delaware will be a model in this regard. I have already been in touch with business leaders and leaders of state government in Delaware to encourage them to take advantage of the incentives in this legislation to partner with the federal government so that together we can provide the best possible coverage for seniors in our state." Under the legislation, beginning in 2006, $400 billion would be made available over 10 years to provide a voluntary prescription drug benefit under Medicare -- a benefit that would greatly expand the number of seniors who would be eligible for some type of drug coverage. Currently, in Delaware, 74 percent of seniors, either through private health plans or the state's prescription drug plan, have access to prescription drug coverage. This legislation would expand that number so that nearly 96 percent of all seniors would qualify for some type of prescription drug benefit. "I'd rather see nearly all of our seniors have access to some type of plan than to continue to let nearly a quarter of our state's seniors have to foot the entire cost of prescription drugs by themselves," said Carper. "The state's prescription drug benefit is a great program, but many middle-income seniors don't qualify for it because their incomes simply aren't low enough. The federal bill will help make up that difference." Carper continued, "Despite my concerns with this bill, I am unwilling to walk away from the table this year with nothing for Delaware's seniors. Next year is an election year, meaning that it will be politically difficult to get a drug bill through Congress. We have waited too long and the need is too great to let politics continue to get in the way of doing what is right for our nation's seniors."