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Seniors can take advantage of prescription drug benefit

[ Return To Senator Roy Dyson's Newsletter ]

Posted on December 20, 2000:

Senator Dyson One of the most frustrating things about ďserving the publicĒ is not always getting what you think is best for it. Politics, which is getting to be an uglier word year in and year out, plays a major and mostly obstructive role in trying to produce legislation that will help people.

Take one of todayís most controversial issues -- prescription drug coverage for seniors. Both Democrats and Republicans seem to agree that adding prescription drug coverage to Medicare needs to be passed into law, but both parties canít come up with a way to figure out how to do it.

I believe many of those in Congress on both sides of the aisle are paying lip service to seniors by ďpromisingĒ this coverage then blaming the other side for not letting it pass. This way, they can deceive seniors into believing theyíre doing their best to pass legislation desperately needed for this heavy voting, but usually neglected bloc of citizens.

Last year, President Clinton produced a solid plan to include prescription drug coverage into Medicare. But Republicans immediately dismissed the plan, Democrats complained that their counterparts were trying to block the president for political reasons and the plan died.

Knowing Congress wasnít going to do anything to help, my colleagues in the Senate and House of Delegates and I who represent rural senior citizens that donít have prescription drug coverage, went about finding a stop-gap measure to help these constituents in need.

By the end of the session, the rural delegation was pleased that the General Assembly produced legislation to help seniors pay for the spiraling increase in prescription drugs. This legislation was a bill I was pleased to sponsor -- the Rural Senior Prescription Drug Program.

Unfortunately, this bill went through a lot of my colleaguesí hands before it got passed. By the time it was changed from my intent and ended up a law, this bill didnít look quite like what I had in mind.
But, despite the tinkering done to the bill I sponsored, something is better than nothing. Despite some labyrinthian bureaucratic language that has turned some seniors off to this bill, I suggest they consider taking another look at this program.

For many, this billís price tag is too high and the paper work too much to bother with.

I wasnít pleased that seniors living in rural counties who did not have a prescription drug benefit plan had to pay as much as they do. For instance, after all of the tinkering was done, seniors have to pay $40 a month in addition to a co-pay of $10 for generic prescription drugs, $20 for preferred brand drugs and $35 for those that are not non-preferred brands. Unfortunately, a lot of the drugs prescribed for seniors are neither offered as generic or preferred band drugs. Many of the non-preferred brands for high blood pressure and diabetes. For most seniors, once they add up the math, they are left with about a $400 benefit from enrolling in this plan.

Thatís not exactly what I had in mind when I introduced the original bill. But for now -- under these current financial and political climates, thatís a start. The politicians on Capitol Hill can only promise for so long. They need to come up with a comprehensive and mandatory prescription drug supplement to Medicare. Be wary of those who offer a plan that is just voluntary. That plan is fraught with political mischief. If you thought my bill got mangled. Try seeing what the feds will do with much more far-reaching legislation.

And, Iím not finished. The good thing about flawed bills is that they can be amended. After consulting with the state, Calvert and St. Maryís countyís health and office on aging departments, I plan to offer amendments to make this plan more user-friendly and to get more from our seniors.

The Rural Senior Prescription Drug Program assumes the feds will come through with a Medicare plan by June 2002 by which time the state bill expires. Iím not confident this divided Congress will put their ridiculous little squabbles behind them and pass a mandatory prescription drug plan by June 2002. Thereís a lot of animosity up there in Washington and people who need Congressí help -- like our seniors -- are being ignored.

Iím committed to making sure Marylandís rural seniors get the best health care, including prescription drug coverage, that they possibly can. Itís the least we owe this great generation. Until Congress acts -- with good legislation -- Iíll go in front of my colleagues and fight for our seniors to make that happen. It is my every intention to make the Rural Senior Prescription Drug Program even better than it already is today.

I encourage seniors interested in joining this program to call their local office on aging or the planís provicer, CareFirst at (800) 972-4612. The Maryland Department of Aging can be reaged at (800) 243-3425.

[ Return To Senator Roy Dyson's Newsletter ]

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