Guest Column: Rethinking Medicare Part D—Debunking Medicare myths

Editor’s note: Dr. Orthoefer’s column is in response to the Galen Institute article that appeared in the Sept. 27-Oct. 3, 2006, issue of The Rock River Times. The Galen Institute is connected with the Heartland Institute, a right-wing study group. Their informative articles are biased toward that philosophy.

Let’s try telling the truth; Medicare Part D is a terrible program written by the drug and insurance companies. Of course, it is defended by the right wing, who profits from the program. Drug company profits are projected to be up by 20 percent as a result of the program, and the federal government will be $400 billion in the hole. The taxpayers of Illinois and the beneficiaries are estimated to pay $32 billion more than necessary over the next 10 years compared to a bill to maximize efficiency. The act places another profit center (the insurance companies) between the seniors and the drug manufacturers. We now pay profit to the drug manufacturers, insurance companies, and local pharmacist. That is really efficient!

Let’s start to look at the cost to seniors. The average premium is $24 per month or $288 per year. The senior using the program pays the first $250 for drugs plus 25 percent between $250 and $2,250 or $500. The cost to the senior is $1,038 per year for $1,212 of insurance if the senior uses $2,250 in drugs. This sounds like a bad deal, but let’s look further. More than 7 million seniors have now fallen into the so-called donut hole. They must continue to pay the Part D premiums but have no further coverage until they reach a drug cost of $5,250. Many seniors I know would now be bankrupt. The article says they can now go on the largesse of the drug companies. I would prefer, as would most seniors, to go to the national torturers. Medicare, merely negotiating the cost of drugs with the drug companies, could close this donut hole at no cost to taxpayers. That is not all; prices and the size of the donut hole are projected to increase above the rate of inflation each year as far as the eye can see.

Don’t buy the propaganda that the drug companies must pay for all of the research for new drugs. The federal government pays for almost all of the basic research. This is done through the wonderful university research system of the United States. When the basic research shows promise, it is then sold to the drug companies for further development. In fact, the number of significant new drugs coming out of U.S. drug companies has been decreasing each year. They are spending more on advertising than research. Special political favors have also contributed significantly to their profits. Examples include patent extensions, preventing generics coming on the market, and repatenting drugs by making minor changes. The article says all drugs are not available to VA patients. Neither are they available under Part D to all seniors. Every drug insurance has a different formulary. Drugs must be included in each category, but not all drugs must be included. The same with the VA; all categories must be covered, but not all drugs are included.

Again, the public has been taken by special interests and their politician friends. The drug companies and insurance companies wrote this act for their benefit. All of the propaganda will not change how the victims feel.

Dr. Joseph Orthoefer is a retired public health administrator.

From the Nov. 15-21, 2006, issue

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