Legislative & Political Dept.
Flawed Medicare Reform Bill Enacted
Legislative & Political Department Director
(This article was first published in the January/February 2004 issue of The American Postal Worker magazine)
Congress gave final approval late last year to a controversial bill that fundamentally changes Medicare and provides senior citizens with a prescription-drug benefit.
Following a contentious vote in the House of Representatives four days earlier, the Senate approved the bill by a vote of 54-44 on Nov. 25, handing the president and Republican leaders a dubious victory on an issue they hope will resonate with older Americans, a powerful voting bloc. President Bush signed the bill into law on Dec. 8, 2003, however, the Medicare reforms and drug benefit will not take effect until 2006 — well after 2004 elections.
The Medicare legislation barely made it through the house, passing 220-215 in the wee hours of Nov. 21. Democrats complained that not only were they excluded from negotiations over the bill's final contents, but that they were given only hours to review the $400 billion, 681-page bill before the vote. They also cried foul when the House Republican leadership invoked the unusual parliamentary procedure of extending the time allotted to vote way beyond the customary 15 minutes.
The unprecedented three-hour-long vote gave the GOP leadership and President Bush time to pressure several Republican members who had been opposing the bill. The Republican strategy paid off, with Reps. C.L. "Butch" Otter (R-ID) and Trent Franks (R-AZ), among those switching their votes from "no" to "yes."
The legislation will make the most sweeping changes in Medicare since the program was created in 1965. Though it adds a federally subsidized prescription-drug benefit for lower-income seniors, the new law encourages private companies to create new "preferred provider organizations," or PPOs, to compete with the government-run program.
Harmful Side Effects
While the 40 million seniors who rely on Medicare will be getting a prescription-drug benefit, the new law opens the door for privatization, and it may undermine the viability of a program that seniors have trusted and relied upon for nearly four decades. According to the Alliance for Retired Americans and the AFL-CIO, the Medicare changes and prescription drug program come with the following harmful side effects:
A Helping Hand for Whom?
The legislation caters to the pharmaceutical industry and private health care providers at the expense of the seniors and people with disabilities the program was created for. It will divert $139 billion federal health care dollars — more than a quarter of the money set aside to help senior pay their drug costs — into profits for private drug companies over the next decade.
"Instead of creating a much-need prescription drug benefit, Congress has rewarded the drug companies and HMOs at the expense of senior citizens," said APWU President William Burrus. "Many older Americans could lose their retiree prescription drug coverage or will be forced to pay increased Medicare premiums if they refuse to join an HMO," he said.