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Friday, March 30, 2007

Forcing States Into a Corporate Giveaway Program

The assault on state-sponsored health care plans has begun. With states building their own public health financing programs to make up for the lack of government action, the federal government is moving to dismantle them. It used to be that republicans and conservatives argued for local governance and local control -- but that was before the government gave away billions to corporations under Medicare Part D. Now, you deal with the massive, confusing, and corrupt system or you're screwed.

Wisconsin, responding to out of control drug prices, has instituted called SeniorCare.

The Capital Times:

When Bette Linton fell on the stairs a year ago, the 85-year-old broke her right leg in three places.

The federal government's Medicare program helped her pay for the hospital stay and rehabilitation. The four drugs she was prescribed would have cost her about $684 a year under Medicare's drug program, a significant amount for Linton, who lives off her monthly Social Security check.

Instead, the Fitchburg resident enrolled in SeniorCare, a Wisconsin state program that has provided comprehensive drug coverage to seniors since 2002. Linton now pays only $180 annually for the prescriptions.

A good deal for seniors, huh? And, as a taxpayer, it's also a good deal for you. According to Patricia Finder-Stone, the president of AARP Wisconsin, the feds pay $617 per person under SeniorCare, compared to $1,331 per under Medicare. Medicare Part D is more than twice as expensive.

And what do you get for all that extra money? Pretty much jack. Corporations, on the other hand, get plenty.

Campaign for America's Future:

Specific provisions of the Medicare prescription drug program inserted at the request of pharmaceutical and HMO interests will cost taxpayers and seniors more than $80 billion a year, according to a report released today by the Institute for America's Future and the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

The study, released by a coalition of groups led by the Campaign for America's Future, Public Campaign Action Fund, USAction and Political Action, connects the program's escalating costs and complexity to the influence exerted by lobbyists for health insurance, health services and pharmaceutical companies in drafting the bill. According to the report, industry campaign contributions totaled $96 million from 2000 to 2004, and industry profits will swell by 500 to 600 percent as the new legislation goes into effect.

"In a sellout to the drug companies, Congress prohibited Medicare from negotiating a better price for seniors," says Institute for America's Future co-director Roger Hickey. "Then it threw in billions of subsides to HMOs, adding another layer of confusion, bureaucracy and costs to the program. America's most vulnerable—seniors in need of prescription drugs—will pay the cost of this corruption."

As a result of Medicare Part D, insurance companies' profits have shot through the roof. Humana, for example, saw its profits double since the plan went into place. It seems to me that a health care program should be focused on helping patients -- Medicare Part D is designed to help corporations.

So Wisconsin's SeniorCare must die. It must die so that seniors can be brought into Medicare Part D -- which, ironically, is a voluntary program. "It's not so much that we don't want to help Medicare beneficiaries in Wisconsin. Of course we do," Leslie Norwalk, the acting administrator of the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services, says. "But the financing of that help needs to change. The financing of that help needs to come through the Medicare program and through the state."

Here's a fun question -- why? Because Leslie Norwalk says so, that's why. No argument in favor of Medicare Part D is given. Mostly because the argument isn't very good -- corporations like Humana don't get much from SeniorCare, while they rake in millions with Part D.

That's pretty much it; the entire argument. SeniorCare is cheaper for taxpayers and enrollees, it's much less confusing -- Part D has an eight page enrollment application alone, while SeniorCare's app is a single page -- and it's designed with patients in mind. The only argument for Part D is that it lets corporations screw taxpayers. Which is why no argument was given.

SeniorCare was operating under a waiver from the federal government. That waiver is about to be pulled. And the only reason this is going to happen is because not enough people are opting into a confusing, corrupt, and expensive program. When SeniorCare ends and Wisconsin residents are forced onto Part D, expect a government study proudly announcing that enrollment in Part D continues to rise. It's damned easy for a program to be a big success when it's the only game in town.

This is Bush administration domestic policy in a nutshell -- a complete disregard for citizens and consumers. This is supply-side economics in action and, unfortunately, the vast majority of americans sit on the demand-side. So, these sort of policies don't actually help us.

And mostly because they aren't designed to. They're designed to help the corporations and the wealthy. And they're working as designed. Yesterday, it was reported that the gap between rich and poor widen to pre-depression levels. Funny how this 'trickle-down' stuff never seems to do any trickling. The wealth doesn't so much trickle down as it just pools up there at the top.

I just wish that so much of that pooling wealth up there didn't used to be ours.


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