Urging Medicare recipients to use drug discount cards to save money on prescriptions could buy President George W. Bush some time on the politically volatile issue of high-cost medication. It may even save seniors a little money. What it won't do is eliminate the need for a real -- and really costly -- Medicare prescription-drug benefit.
When it comes to crafting a plan for that, and overhauling Medicare to ensure the program's long-term solvency, Bush should use any breathing room afforded by his stopgap card plan to prepare the country for the reality that in the long run Medicare will either cost more or deliver less -- or some of both.
Discount cards marketed by private companies and endorsed and promoted by the government promise savings of 10 to 40 percent on prescriptions for the 14 million Medicare recipients without drug coverage. The program, announced last week, has the added benefit of being fairly easy to implement. It would not require congressional approval and would cost the federal government almost nothing.
The discount cards are already available, most with annual fees of $25 or less. The companies that offer them negotiate prices with retail pharmacies.
Washington would simply set federal standards for discount cards, identify the companies that meet them and encourage seniors to take advantage of the discounts. ...
But officials estimate that the 10-year cost of a direct Medicare drug benefit would be $300 billion. If there is any way to escape that bottom line, Washington hasn't found it.
-- Newsday, Long Island, N.Y.,
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