Thursday, August 25, 2005

Medicare Plan Better Than First Perceived

The Medicare plan opposed by the AARP and admittedly misunderstood by 71% of senior citizens has been given a huge approval boost by a report produced by a coalition of health organizations. (Forbes: Big Savings Seen in Medicare Rx Drug Plan). According to the independent report, 97 percent of Medicare beneficiaries are eligible for the new plan - a huge increase over the 62 percent that are eligible for it today. On top of improved access to coverage, the plan will reduce the out-of-pocket expense for the lowest income seniors from $1657 per year down to $180 per year.

The report also shows that the new plan is gaining support among seniors, despite opposition from the leading retirement organization AARP. This support is accompanied by an increased number of seniors that now feel they understand the plan and are better able to make an informed decision regarding its value and applicability to their situation.

Criticism of the new plan centers around the overall cost to the health industry as a whole and on the tax-payer who must ultimately bear the burden of senior citizen health coverage. The report goes on to state the obvious - that people eligible for Medicare are also those most in need of prescription drug coverage.

At the heart of this issue is the exorbitant cost of prescription drugs in the US. What is not addressed as part of the Medicare plan - or any other plan being seriously discussed in Washington - is the issue of getting drug costs under control. Stop-gap measures being floated by some states that want to allow the import of drugs from Canada or elsewhere both are impractical and fail to address the source of the problem.

Foreign drug import is impractical simply because the source of those drugs is US based pharmaceutical companies. Canada has already threatened to prevent the export of drugs out of fear that their supply would be compromised, and the pharmaceutical companies have already threatened to raise the price of drugs shipped to Canada to compensate for the lost revenue.

At the heart of the problem is the simple fact that the American consumer is paying the full price of pharmaceutical research. The cost of that research is compounded by the rather lengthy bureaucratic process companies must wade through in order to get a drug passed for human trials. The cost also accounts for all the false leads and failed drugs that drain resources with no ultimate income potential. So the cost is high, but instead of passing that cost along to all countries benefiting from US drug imports, the full cost is being absorbed by the US consumer.

The propensity of US physicians to prescribe drugs - needed or otherwise - only compounds the problem. The number of prescription drugs being consumed by the elderly in the US on a daily basis is astounding. In many cases, prescribed drugs are intended to relieve the side-effects of other prescribed drugs, adding to an endless cycle of legalized drug addiction.

The Medicare plan is a great first step in providing prescription drugs to our senior citizens. It's not the ultimate solution, however. Neither are a socialized medicine plan nor a plan to import drugs from Canada. The solution must come from containing both the cost of drug production and an equitable sharing of drug research across all countries that benefit from drugs produced in the US.


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