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A Swan Song
for Medicare
by Frank Kaiser
It began as a fine idea: add medicine to Medicare. Seemed simple enough. And, God knows, it had been promised over and over by politicians of both parties!

Yet tonight as you watch the beginning of AARP's $7-million media blitz pushing for passage — that's your money if you're a member — know that you are seeing the final death rattle of an idea that could have saved countless thousands of senior lives and immeasurable suffering — physical, financial, and emotional.

Instead, you'll hear AARP declare, "There are millions of Americans who can't afford to wait for perfect. They need action now."

Here's what AARP won't tell you:

  • "Action now" actually starts in 2006 when the bill takes affect. In the meantime, you'll get a crummy drug discount card not unlike those now handed to seniors free by many pharmacies.

  • The new Medicare drug plan will pay for only about one in every five dollars needed to cover the medicine doctors say we seniors need.

  • In spite of new subsidies to business, an estimated 4 million retirees will be cut off from drug benefits they currently receive under their previous employer's pension plans. Will you be among them?

  • Intense lobbying and millions in legal bribes to politicians pay off big for America's drug companies, as the bill prohibits Medicare from negotiating drug discounts. According to Boston University's School of Public Health, 61 percent of this new drug benefit will end up as a windfall bottom-line profit to drug makers. That means…

  • $400 billion dollars will go directly from taxpayer's pockets to the world's most profitable industry in increased profits over eight years.

  • Medicare will die. The new bill offers private health insurers $12 billion in subsidies to compete against Medicare, may the best plan win! (How else could they compete? HMOs spend 15 - 32 percent on overhead where Medicare spends less than 2 percent.)

  • Fat cat insurers will then cherry-pick the healthiest of seniors, forcing on us their doctors and hospitals. Of course, these HMOs will return again and again to the trough demanding more subsidies with the threat of stopping benefits. Ain't Congress' interpretation of free enterprise wonderful?

  • When politicians and AARP say the bill "will especially help the poorest of us," know that they lie. If Congress had wanted to help those who need help most, they would have devoted the entire $40 billion annual drug subsidy to the poor. That would have made sense. Instead, the poor elderly get $600 annual relief. If your yearly income is above $13,000, you're ineligible for any additional help.

  • Congress has twice passed and two presidents have signed legislation designed to make it legal to reimport drugs from Canada. Yet the power of Big Pharma pushed Congress to make it "illegal" for you to save 40 – 90 percent by buying your drugs in Canada. As about 1.2 million Americans currently do just that, the FDA will probably continue to allow such reimportation. Arresting Granny at the border is shoddy PR. But to save more than half of the $855.7 billion 10-year cost of this bill by allowing Medicare to buy in Canada is absolutely, positively prohibited by law.

  • And among the many other atrocities hidden in this 1100-page bill is a cap on the use of general revenues for Medicare. This will create a phony crisis around 2010 leading to cutbacks in Medicare-covered hospital and doctor care, as well as drug benefits, significantly increasing your out-of-pocket costs.

This biggest of all Medicare fraud will be lauded by politicians, by AARP, by all who profit from its passing.

Unfortunately, barring a miracle, that won't include you or me.

Copyright © 2003 – Frank Kaiser


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