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American Health Line

Below, American Health Line rounds up reactions to President Bush‘s State of the Union address and to his anticipated Medicare reforms, which are expected to establish a prescription drug benefit for beneficiaries who enroll in a new managed care program. Under the plan, which would begin in 2006, Medicare beneficiaries could remain in the traditional fee-for-service program, enroll in regional HMOs that offer prescription drug coverage or enroll in private health plans with “enhanced fee-for-service benefits” that include prescription drug coverage (American Health Line, 1/24).


– Albany Times Union: Bush’s “ambitious economic agenda” presented in his speech last night was aimed to “answer critics who claim he is ignoring problems at home,” and his reported plan for Medicare reform would “fundamentally alter” the program, according to an Albany Times Union editorial. According to the Times Union, under Bush’s anticipated plan, seniors who have “heavy” prescription drug bills and “limited” incomes would “have no choice” but to enroll in HMOs in order to receive prescription drug coverage under Medicare. Further, the editorial continues, the price of the proposal “could balloon” if drug costs increase, and critics argue that while HMOs “may have helped” to contain costs for employers, the rising price of health care may “forc[e]” patients to pay more in out-of-pocket expenses and copayments (Albany Times Union, 1/29).

– Arizona Daily Star: Bush’s proposals concerning “high quality, affordable health care for all Americans” during his State of the Union speech were “anemic” and “vague,” an Arizona Daily Star editorial states. Bush’s proposal to spend $400 billion over the next decade to “reform and strengthen” Medicare, including adding a prescription drug benefit, “did not reconcile” with his administration’s 5.4% Medicare reimbursement cuts to physicians last year and the scheduled 4.4% cut this year, the Daily Star says. In addition, while Bush argued that many are paying higher health care costs because of “excessive litigation and ‘frivolous lawsuits,'” he “failed to note” that the “single greatest increase in expense” facing state governments is providing health care to the disabled and poor, according to the editorial (Arizona Daily Star, 1/29).

– Baltimore Sun: While Bush deserves “credit” for proposing to spend an additional $400 billion on Medicare over the next 10 years, his proposed tax cuts could make Medicare “even more financially overwhelmed by aging baby boomers,” according to a Baltimore Sun editorial (Baltimore Sun, 1/29).

– Contra Costa Times: In his State of the Union speech last night, Bush recognized that “Iraq is not the only issue occupying most Americans’ minds” and unveiled “significant domestic programs,” including a prescription drug benefit for seniors and treatment for drug addicts, according to a Contra Costa Times editorial (Contra Costa Times, 1/29).

– Houston Chronicle: Bush’s “compassion was evident” during his State of the Union address last night, as he promised “affordable” health care, a “choice of doctors” for all Americans and a prescription drug program for seniors, according to a Houston Chronicle editorial. However, while Bush “promised to take control” of health care away from HMOs, he “didn’t hint how this would be accomplished,” the Chronicle says (Houston Chronicle, 1/29).

– New York Times: Bush’s “much-anticipated” proposal for prescription drug benefits for Medicare beneficiaries has a “catch” in that the drug coverage would be available only through private health plans, not through fee-for-service Medicare. The Times writes that Bush “will need to make a strong case why drug coverage should not be provided through both systems” (New York Times, 1/29).


– Alliance to Improve Medicare: The Alliance to Improve Medicare “applauds” Bush’s call to “strengthen and improve” the Medicare program, and the group is “encouraged” that Bush believes that “this is the year” to improve Medicare and provide a prescription drug benefit under the program, AIM Executive Director Tracey Moorhead said in response to the State of the Union speech (Alliance to Improve Medicare release, 1/28).

– Consumers Union: Bush’s anticipated proposal to require Medicare beneficiaries to join private health plans to obtain prescription drug coverage “would be bad medicine for the Medicare program” because seniors would have to “sacrifice” the “freedom” to choose their own doctors “in order to get prescription drug benefits,” according to a Consumers Union release. The Consumers Union states that Bush’s expected plan “provides no guarantees that seniors or the disabled would have access” to affordable drugs but does mean that the federal government “would lose an important opportunity to negotiate lower prices for prescriptions” (Consumers Union release, 1/28).

– Families USA: Bush’s anticipated proposal “to coerce seniors into private health plans” to receive prescription drug coverage “will rob seniors of the most important choice they have today — the right to choose their own doctors,” Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, says. According to Pollack, under Bush’s proposal, seniors are “forced to choose between the drug coverage they so desperately need and the doctors they have come to depend on” (Families USA release, 1/28).

– Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR): Bush’s anticipated proposal to privatize Medicare by “driving seniors to low-quality HMOs” in order to receive a prescription drug benefit “will undermine access to basic health care services,” Jerry Flanagan, a consumer advocate with the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, said (FTCR release, 1/28).

– Healthcare Leadership Council: Bush’s health care proposals outlined during his State of the Union speech are “the best opportunity we’ve seen in years to replace gridlock and frustration with real bipartisan progress,” Mary Grealy, president of the Healthcare Leadership Council, said. According to Grealy, Bush’s proposals “absolutely must receive serious consideration” because Medicare “will be a better program if it offers consumer choice” (Healthcare Leadership Council release, 1/28).

– National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare: “Choice is not worth much if none of the options are good” and Bush’s anticipated Medicare reform plan “could force seniors to choose between a private health insurance plan with prescription drug coverage or traditional Medicare with none,” Barbara Kennelly, president and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, said. According to Kennelly, Medicare “would be a stratified program,” and abolishing “traditional” Medicare for future retirees “would let private companies monopolize health insurance for seniors.” Kennelly said, “Every senior should have access to prescription drug coverage,” and it should “not be held hostage to the requirement to join a private plan” (National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare release, 1/28).

– Seniors Coalition: The Seniors Coalition is “pleased to hear President Bush reaffirm his support for adding a prescription drug benefit under Medicare,” as “millions” of seniors have “waited long enough” for prescription drug coverage, Mary Martin, chair of the Seniors Coalition, said in response to Bush’s State of the Union address. Martin added, “It’s clear that President Bush is committed to giving this senior priority even greater personal attention in this new Congress” (Seniors Coalition release, 1/28).

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