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Bush touts Medicare drug plan

'There is help,' president says

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George W. Bush
Michael Leavitt
Medicare

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush visited a retirement home in suburban Washington Tuesday to tout the new Medicare prescription drug plan, which will take effect in a few weeks.

The president acknowledged what many seniors have complained about -- that signing up for the program, which offers at least 30 different plans, is "a daunting task."

"What we want to assure seniors around the country is that there is help," Bush said. "You can call 1-800-Medicare or you can get on the Internet with medicare.gov, ask your son or daughter, ask people in your church, ask people in AARP, ask people in your community center to help look at what's available for you.

"It's a good deal for our seniors."

During his visit with retirees at the Greenspring Village Retirement Community in Springfield, Virginia, Bush also stressed that the program is optional.

Most seniors around the country will be able chose from at least 30 different plans, depending on which state they live in. The program takes effect January 1. Seniors began signing up in November and have until May 15 to sign up for 2006. A 1 percent penalty will be assessed each month after that.

Secretary of Health and Human Services Michael Leavitt told ABC's "This Week" on Sunday he expects between 28 million and 30 million Americans who potentially would not have been covered by insurance to sign up for the plan by the end of 2006.

"It's a heavy lift to be able to get 41 million people into what will be the most significant change in health care in some 40 years," Leavitt said.

Because the various plans are competing in terms of low prices, the costs have been reduced by 15 percent, he said.

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