Once again senior citizens were urged to sign up for the new Federal Prescription Drug Program when it becomes available in Jan. 1, 2006 "even though it's a bad law." That was U.S. Rep. James P. Moran's (D-8) advice to those attending his annual Senior Issues Forum June 27.
With more than 150 seniors gathered in the auditorium of Arlington County's Gunston Middle School on South Lang Street, Moran warned that those who do not sign up for the new program by May 2006 "could face increasing premiums that will escalate at one percent a month."
Moran said, "If you hesitate for three years your premium will be 36 percent higher than those that sign up now." The estimated premium is $37 per month in addition to the present Part B premium under Medicare. There is also a yearly deductible of $250 plus payment of part of the drug costs. Participants will still pay 80 percent of their drug costs up to a $5,000 limit, according to literature at the Forum.
"But, if you have a catastrophic illness or need very expensive drugs that is when the program will be of great benefit," Moran said. "You can't afford not to have it unless you have other coverage."
ATTENDEES RECEIVED an analysis and explanation of the program from Joyce Hutchins, Arlington outreach coordinator for the Virginia Insurance Counseling and Assistance Program (VICAP). "For anyone who is not covered by a prescription drug plan, you should seriously consider signing up for the new Federal plan when it starts," she said.
"The greatest flaw in the Prescription Drug Law is the prohibition against negotiating with drug companies to lower the price," said Dr. Thomas Connally, retired physician and medical director of the Arlington Free Clinic. Speaking on "The Future of Getting Older," Connally said, "Social Security is not the problem, Medicare and Medicaid are."
During his introduction of Connally, Moran urged the audience to get a copy of the doctor's new book "The Third Third" which deals with various aspects of the last third of life. Connally also serves as a clinical professor at Georgetown University Hospital.
"By 2029 more than 80 million Americans will be over 65 and drawing on Social Security and Medicare. And by 2050 there will be 20 million Americans over the age of 85," Connally said.
"But Social Security will only have to absorb six percent of that aging factor. Medicare and Medicaid will have to absorb 14 percent to 16 percent. More than double Social Security." he said.
"Healthcare cost are escalating dramatically for a number of reasons. But one of the big ones is that 26 percent of the cost is in administration. In Canada that only amounts to 16 percent," Connally said.
"We are going to reach a point where we will have to decide who will get what kinds of treatment. Primary care doctors are getting less for their services under Medicare while many specialty doctors are receiving too much. It's going to become difficult to find a primary care doctor who will accept Medicare," he said.
COMMENTING ON Social Security and the Bush Administration's plan to privatize a portion of personal deductions, Moran said, "I'm not entirely sure what Bush's motives are in promoting this except to help his friends in big brokerage firms. Bush's plan on Social Security is a bad idea that's only going to make the problem worse."
Moran said, "I have offered a bill to raise the income cap on Social Security deductions from its present $90,000 limit. After $90,000, people would pay only one half of the percent paid on the first $90,000. Many think this would more than cover the needs for Social Security."
Rather than Social Security being a crisis, Moran warned that a dramatic slowing in the annual average growth rate could lead the nation into a depression and drop the United States to third or fourth place among the world economies. "That is where the real crisis lies for Social Security as well," he said.
"For the last 10 years our annual average growth has been about 3.3 percent. If that were to continue we could sustain Social Security for the next 75 years," he said.
"But, actuaries have predicted an annual growth rate of only 1.8 percent. If that happens it is a far greater threat than any military threat we might face," Moran said.
"Social Security is not bankrupt. It is the federal government that is bankrupt. Social Security is the only trust fund not bankrupt. The money in Social security is going to grow and there is more coming in than going out," he said.
"Social Security is financing the national debt. Due to programs put in place by the first George Bush, Bill Clinton was able to turn the deficit into a surplus by 2001. Now we have a $3 trillion debt. Most of that is due to this Bush's tax cuts," Moran said.
JOINING HUTCHINS for a workshop entitled "Understanding the New Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit" was David Melton, public affairs specialist, Social Security Administration. They urged everyone to be aware of the following critical dates:
* October 2005 - "Medicare and You 2006" will be mailed.
* Oct. 13, 2005 comparative plans will be available on www.medicare.gov or by calling 1-800-MEDICARE.
* Nov. 15, 2005 enrollment opens
* Jan. 1, 2006 prescription coverage begins for those who enrolled in November
* May 15, 2006 open enrollment ends.
More information is available by contacting a VICAP Counselor at 703-228-1700 for both Alexandria and Arlington or 703-324-5851 for Fairfax and Falls Church.
Other information Web sites are: www.healthassistancepartnership.org or www.socialsecurity.gov.