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Democrats Present Alternative to Bush’s ‘Meager’ Medicare Proposal

Democrats delivered a resounding shot in the war to court seniors Tuesday, denouncing President Bush’s plan to reform Medicare as inadequate.

Speaking before the American Medical Association in the morning, Bush outlined principles he said would improve the almost 40-year-old entitlement program and add a prescription drug benefit.

Committing $400 billion over 10 years, the White House proposal would give seniors access to “prescription drug coverage that enables seniors to get the medicines they need, without the government dictating their drug choices,” according to a White House release.

Further, it would grant “choice of an individual health care plan that best fits their needs — just like Members of Congress and other federal employees enjoy today; choice of the doctor, hospital or place they want for the treatment and care they need.”

But as soon as Bush wrapped up his speech, House Democrats offered a counter-proposal, which they said would do more for seniors.

Their plan, which would be Medicare Part D, carries a $25 monthly premium and $100 annual deductible. There is a 20 percent co-pay, meaning Medicare would cover 80 percent of the cost of prescriptions, although it limits out-of-pocket expenses to $2,000 a year.

“President Bush has proposed a different course,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said. “The meager benefit he is proposing, even with its coverage gaps and high out-of-pocket costs, won’t be available to the 89 percent of Medicare beneficiaries who are enrolled in the existing fee-for-service program.

Under the Bush plan “you can choose your own doctor or you can get help with the routine cost of medications, but you can’t have both,” Pelosi said.

Democrats were very critical of Bush’s proposed discount prescription card, which would go to those in the current Medicare system and would save seniors 10 percent to 25 percent on drugs, according to the White House.

The president’s plan, the core of which would not kick in until 2006, would give seniors the discount card right away and give low-income seniors an extra $600 annually to defer drug costs.

But Democrats wouldn’t hand seniors “cards of doubtful value” said House Energy and Commerce ranking member John Dingell (D-Mich.).

“That’s the Buck Rogers Rocket Ranger card,” Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) quipped.

Democrats charged that Bush’s new plan is essentially same one he unveiled earlier that would have required seniors to join health maintenance organizations to get the maximum benefit.

Sen. Byron Dorgan (N.D.), chairman of the Democratic Policy Committee, likened it to goods that are touted as “new and improved” by the manufacturer but really are “the same old product in new packaging.”

Asked how Democrats would provide more with less while finding balance in the budget in the out years, Stark passionately retorted: “I feel a helluva lot more obligation to provide a prescription drug for someone my age than to make sure my kids get rich by not having to pay taxes.”

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