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Drug Money

The high cost and illusion of Medicare reform.

After years of promises and dithering, Congress has finally reformed Medicare. In December, President George W. Bush signed the landmark legislation into law and proclaimed a new era in which Americaís seniors will receive the comprehensive health care they deserve—in part because they will now be eligible for prescription drug benefits.

This Medicare reform offers a little bit for everyone. Seniors get their prescription drug benefit, members of Congress who voted for the bill get political cover for the 2004 election campaign, and those who opposed the bill get plenty of grist for the campaign mill. Then there is the American Association of Retired Persons. Having assumed the leading role in drafting and endorsing the billís language, the 35-million-member AARP is now the most powerful arm-twister in Washington (it wrested the title from the energy lobby). The group will earn millions of dollars in royalties and commissions from the new prescription drug insurance plans it doubtless will peddle to members.

AARP IN ARMS; Copyright © 2004 Acumen Sciences, LLC, All Rights Reserved.But what do U.S. taxpayers, who ultimately have to pay for it all, get? A bill for $400 billion (give or take $50 billion) over ten years that will swell to a staggering $2 trillion during its second decade if Congressional Budget Office estimates are to be believed.

Although Congress and AARP admit that the price tag is high and the plan flawed, they stress that the new Medicare is a whole lot better than the old one. Still, the average senior isnít buying it. “We all need the prescription drug benefit. We canít afford to go on like this,” a 68-year-old retiree told the Associated Press just days following the billís passage. “But who the devil knows whether this mess theyíre passing in Washington will help us here in Iowa?”

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