Congressman Richard Burr was in Boone early this week campaigning for U.S. Senate. In his exclusive interview with John O'Dowd for the Watauga Democrat (not yet posted to their site), he bragged that he was an original sponsor of what ultimately became the infamous Medicare Bill, passed and signed by the Prez late last fall, which "offers prescription drug benefits for Medicare beneficiaries." To brag this way, Burr has to depend on North Carolina voters NOT knowing:
1. The new bill forces seniors to pay sharply increased premiums and give up their Medigap policies to stay in traditional Medicare. For these reasons, seniors will be increasingly herded into private plans or HMOs. Private insurers do not guarantee premiums, can drop patients, and change coverage. And because private companies can cherry-pick the healthiest to be insured, the bill just about guarantees that the average costs for those remaining in traditional Medicare will rise. The bill caps premium increases and federal contributions to Medicare, guaranteeing that it will do exactly what Newt Gingrich always wanted: make it whither on the vine.
2. There are no provisions in the new bill to get insurance or pharmaceutical companies to limit costs. While private industry is free to wheel and deal in lowering costs for drugs, the new law prohibits Medicare from using its negotiating power to lower prices.
3. A provision allowing re-importation of U.S.-made drugs from other countries was dropped from the final bill. Many Americans currently save between 40-60 percent by buying their drugs in Canada. No longer.
4. Medigap policies that cover prescription drug costs will no longer be allowed. Millions of Medicare beneficiaries have bought private insurance to fill gaps in Medicare. The new legislation outlaws the sale of any Medigap policy that would help pay drug costs.
5. The new law gives private insurers the right to ration access to drugs funded by Medicare. Insurer-created committees decide what types and kinds of drugs to cover, and how high to set the payment for each drug. Citizens have no say.
6. Millions of retirees stand to lose their company-sponsored prescription drug insurance. The new bill gives $70 million to corporations which currently offer retirement drug benefits, to "encourage them to continue," but it does not say they "have" to continue. We might better call this provision corporate welfare: "take the money and run."
7. Your Children and Grandchildren Will Foot the Bill. This new law will add at least $400 billion (that number has already jumped to over $500 billion in official estimates and some economists say it will actually be about $700 billion) to the national debt over the next 10 years. The new bill holds big changes for younger workers that could prompt employers to pass on higher health-care costs and move the country away from work-based health coverage to a system that makes you fend for yourself. Anyone who has ever had a serious illness knows this is a travesty for working, middle-class families.
8. Your tax dollars provide a Corporate Payout, with no strings attached. The new Medicare bill has an assortment of provisions that has nothing to do with providing prescription drug benefits to seniors. The Pharmaceutical industry will get $139 billion in additional profits over the next 10 years. Private insurance companies will get $12 billion in "incentives." Private businesses will get $86 billion worth of payments and tax benefits, and HMOs will get $12 billion in tax dollars to skim healthier people out of the current Medicare program, leaving the oldest and sickest in a pool all alone.
Call Burr's bill by its more proper name: the Pharmaceutical Industry Relief Act of 2003 (with thanks to Billmon for that moniker!).