Tom Harkin - U.S. Seante

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) today called the new Medicare prescription drug plan a confusing mess, and called on Congress to fix the problem by providing a simple, more effective benefit for Iowa seniors. Harkin did not vote for the drug bill in 2003 because it created a confusing plan that did not allow Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices directly with drug manufacturers. A new report released today by Families USA shows that predictions have come true and that there are multiple barriers for seniors trying to navigate this confusing, complicated program.

“While the new drug benefit may help some seniors, particularly low-income seniors, it is a long way away from being adequate. While seniors and people with disabilities are struggling to understand this complicated plan, the drug companies are celebrating,” said Harkin. “Instead of staying the course with a plan that is a boon for Wall Street, we should be doing everything we can to make it the best plan for those that live on Main Street.”

According to Families USA, some seniors, depending on where they live, must choose from 52 prescription drug plans. In Iowa alone, seniors have to wade through over 40 plans to try to determine which one will provide the best benefit — the average US worker has to choose from fewer than three plans. Information on premiums, deductibles, and whether each plan covers specific drugs is also very complicated. In addition to the confusing plan, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services relies very heavily on its prescription drug website as the main conduit for information on these plans. However, only 28 percent of seniors regularly use the internet.

Harkin called on Congress to pass two different pieces of legislation he supports that would make the benefit more cost effective and simpler for Iowa seniors. The Medicare Prescription Drug Price Reduction Act would allow Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices for the elderly and disable – just like the Veterans Administration. The Medicare Informed Choice Act to give seniors more time to sort through these confusing choices. The bill gives them until the end of 2006 to make a choice – right now they have to choose by May 15 of next year or face a penalty.

“A prescription drug plan should address the heart of the problem and provide real relief to seniors under Medicare,” said Harkin. “Unfortunately, that’s not what seniors will be signing up for. We need to offer solutions that give seniors what they really need: simplicity and low prices. They deserve both.”

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