Capitol Hill (CNSNews.com) - While President Bush Wednesday was touting his Medicare prescription drug plan in a speech in Grand Rapids, Mich., Democrats back in Washington, D.C. were accusing the president of trying to privatize Medicare and force seniors into managed care plans.
The day after Bush's second state of the union address, he was on the road selling his agenda. He urged Congress to pass Medicare reforms, including a prescription drug plan modeled on the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP) and the recommendations of the 1999 National Bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare.
The Bush plan, which the Senate failed to pass last year, would cost an estimated $400 billion over ten years. It would allow seniors to choose from several health plans offered by traditional insurance companies, Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs), Preferred Provider Organizations (PPOs), as well as a health plan combining health reimbursement accounts with traditional insurance.
Medicare is "stuck in the past," Bush said Wednesday. "I urged the Congress last night, to put aside all the politics and to make sure the Medicare system fulfills its promise to our seniors."
"I believe that seniors, if they're happy with the current Medicare system, should stay on the current Medicare system," Bush explained. "However, Medicare must be more flexible."
But, Democratic leaders, Sen. Tom Daschle (S.D.) and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) said the president's plan would privatize Medicare and force seniors into HMOs.
"The president ... promised a prescription drug benefit as part of Medicare," said Daschle. "Yet what he proposed last night is a Medicare privatization plan.
"Rather than simply adding prescription drug coverage to a Medicare program that works, the Bush plan would coerce seniors to drop out of traditional Medicare and join an HMO in order to get even limited drug coverage," Daschle charged.
"Under the president's plan, senior citizens may no longer have the choice to go to their own doctor," said Pelosi. "Seniors may no longer have the choice to fill their prescriptions at their local drug store."
Pelosi accused Republicans of prioritizing "tax cuts for the wealthy" over prescription drugs for seniors. "For the $674 billion the president wants to spend on tax cuts for the wealthy, we could afford to provide prescription drug benefits for all of America's seniors for the next ten years," she said.
But Heritage Foundation scholar Robert Moffit says there's not a shred of evidence to support the Democrats' allegations about the president's prescription drug plan.
"I know that there's an ideological hostility to private plans on the part of the Left," said Moffit; but the FEHBP system upon which the president's plan is based is run by a government agency. "The Office of Personnel Management that runs the [FEHBP], would be surprised to learn that ... they're a private sector operation," he quipped.
As to the Democrats' charge that seniors would have to enter an HMO to get prescription drug coverage, there's no such restriction in the president's plan, said Moffit.
It's the Democrats' plan that's flawed, Moffit countered. "They did not offer any plan to reform the Medicare program."
Instead, said Moffit, what Democrats want is a prescription drug add-on. But, "no serious adult in Washington thinks that you can do that without incurring huge costs, both to taxpayers and senior citizens."
House Democrats last year offered a prescription drug plan with an estimated $800 billion price tag over ten years.
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