Republicans Tripping on Medicare Prescription Drugs

President Bush is touring the country to let seniors know that May 15 is the last day they can enroll in the Republicans’ new Medicare drug program without penalty.  Yet his administration’s boasting about the new Medicare drug program is less than convincing.

  • The administration blares that a seemingly impressive 35.8 million seniors (or 83 percent of Medicare enrollees) now have prescription drug coverage.  Really?  The Congressional Budget Office reported that 75 percent of seniors already had drug coverage before the Republican program was created.  Unless the administration improves on that 8 percentage-point gain, its new entitlement will cost about $9,500 per newly covered senior in 2006 and about $32,000 per newly covered senior by 2015.
  • Of those 35.8 million drug-covered seniors, only eight million actually enrolled themselves in the program (19 percent of seniors).  The rest either stayed with the drug coverage they already had, or are Medicaid enrollees who were automatically enrolled.
  • Even some of those who “voluntarily” enrolled were essentially pushed.  The program encourages employers to drop retiree drug coverage.  Employers like J.C. Penney, Jostens, and Raytheon have already done this.  That leaves many with little choice but to enroll.  The CBO has estimated that this fate will befall close to three million retirees, in spite of the estimated $150 billion Congress is throwing at employers who keep their retiree coverage.  (General Motors gets $4 billion, while Ford gets nearly $2 billion.  Don’t you wish you had a lobbyist?)
  • Medicare’s trustees reported last week that the unfunded liability of the drug program is still greater than that of the entire Social Security program.
  • Medicare’s public trustees also reported that the program’s cost – to date – is lower than had been anticipated “due to recent slower growth in overall prescription drug spending and lower enrollment in stand-alone prescription drug plans than was expected a year ago, among other factors.” 

Republicans are essentially throwing your tax dollars–and their limited government principles–off the back of a truck.  And they’re still having a hard time persuading people to enroll in their entitlement program.