Saturday, January 14, 2006

Update: A Bitter Pill

More than a dozen states have now declared public-health emergencies in order to cover drug costs for millions of senior citizens who have been denied life-saving medications or charged exhorbitant amounts because of glitches in the Bush administration's new Medicare federal prescription drug plan.

In addition to California, Alabama and Illinois, the states mentioned in a Kiko's House post yesterday, emergencies also have been declared in Arkansas, Connecticut, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Massachusetts, North Dakota, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont and Wisconsin.

With the botched response to Hurricane Katrina as the gold standard, the capacity of the Bush administration to screw up bigtime is legendary. President Bush bragged about the new drug plan as his signature domestic achievement before anyone knew whether it was going to work.

The program, which began Jan. 1, offers drug coverage for the first time to 43 million elderly and disabled Americans eligible for Medicare. At the same time, 6.4 million low-income beneficiaries who were receiving their medications through state Medicaid plans were switched into Medicare for their drug benefits and told they would not be charged the standard $250 deductible or co-payments.

However, many poor seniors were never enrolled or were enrolled in plans that do not cover their medications. Others received multiple insurance cards, creating confusion at the pharmacies. Some were charged the deductible and unaffordable co-payments.

This, er . . . hurricane of problems prompted first California and then other states to step in.

Mark B. McClellan, director of the drug plan, acknowledged that some 6.4 million seniors are affected. He also said that he did not have the authority for reimbursing the states.

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