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Is Bush Using Drug Benefit As Wedge to Privatize Medicare?

  • March 5th, 2003

President Bush has unveiled his Medicare prescription drug proposal, which offers drug comprehensive coverage to elderly Americans, but only if they leave traditional Medicare and join managed care plans, according to articles in the New York Times.

Democrats immediately accused the administration of trying to herd Medicare beneficiaries into managed care in an effort to privatize one of the most popular government programs.

"The president talks about Medicare reform," said Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), " but those are code words. What he really wants to do is to privatize Medicare." Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) said the nation''s elderly would be consigned to "the tender mercies of an HMO."

Although Bush''s proposal is short on specifics, it would offer comprehensive drug benefits to Medicare beneficiaries in private plans, while those in the traditional Medicare program would receive only a drug discount card and protection against "high out-of-pocket prescription drug expenses," probably in the range of $,4000 to $7,000.

More than 85 percent of the 40 million Medicare beneficiaries are in the traditional fee-for-service program, which offers a free choice of doctors. Managed care plans do not.

Even some leading Republicans were critical of the plan. Three influential Republican lawmakers, Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine and Reps. Billy Tauzin of Louisiana and Jim Nussle of Iowa, said the Bush proposal did not guarantee adequate drug benefits for people in the traditional Medicare program.

"You couldn''t move my mother out of Medicare with a bulldozer," Rep. Tauzin said. "She trusts it, believes in it. It''s served her well."

Articles in the New York Times on the Bush drug proposal appeared on March 5 and March 4 (click to access). (Free registration required and articles may be only temporarily available.)

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Last Modified: 03/05/2003

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