Runaway drug prices have threatened the retirement security of millions of seniors. Although two-thirds of older Americans have insurance to cover prescription drugs, millions more have to choose between buying food or the prescriptions they need to live healthy lives.
Medicare does not cover prescription drug costs, except in very limited circumstances. That must change, but in doing so we must also protect what works under the current system.
This week, Congress is scheduled to vote on a bipartisan prescription drug plan that would strengthen Medicare and provide drug coverage to all senior citizens and disabled Americans. Coming on the heels of Congress' passage of health care reform through the bipartisan consensus Managed Care Improvement Act, it is one more step toward ensuring that Americans have access to affordable and quality health care.
The plan focuses on three key principles: Coverage would be affordable for all, available for all and voluntary for all--regardless of income. Other plans being discussed contain provisions I oppose. Some would require Medicare to pick up prescription drug coverage for everyone, regardless of need. This would be unnecessarily expensive.
Some plans would create a governmental HMO for prescription drugs, with the government rather than doctors deciding what drugs would be available for seniors. That too would be unacceptable.
A stronger Medicare with prescription drug coverage is a promise of health security and financial security for older Americans. But we must be careful to retain what works for millions of seniors while ensuring that those without benefits obtain them. We must ensure that research and development continue so that someday cures can be found for Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases and cancer.
Any other approach may work in the short term, but in the long term it would jeopardize the health of future seniors while wasting money we could be spending to strengthen Social Security and Medicare and improve our children's education.