What Medicare reform means to you
Currently, Medicare does not cover the cost of
|CNN's Brook Jackson reports on how Medicare recipients pay for prescriptions
|CNN's Chris Black reports on President Clinton's Medicare plan
|CNN's Don Knapp reports on how one retiree could pay more for medicare, but wants to get her money's worth.
|CNN's Don Knapp reports on new legislation affecting medical students' compensation.
Listen to a counselor from the Medicare Rights Center
hot line talking to a caller.
June 29, 1999
Web posted at: 12:51 p.m. EDT (1651 GMT)
NEW YORK (CNN) -- While Medicare provides many medical
benefits for the elderly, it does not include prescription
drug coverage, a fact that puts Anna Egan, and millions of
aging Americans like her, in a bind -- their limited budgets
squeezed to pay health care expenses.
The predicament will take center stage in Washington in
coming weeks as President Clinton and the Republican-led
Congress look for a compromise on the administration's
proposed overhaul of the 34-year-old Medicare program.
"Drugs are critical to modern health care," said Health and
Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala. "We now substitute
drugs for hospital stays.... The drug benefit is important to
improving health care in this country for our seniors," she
told CNN on Tuesday.
Congressional Republicans, who want to reserve some
government surpluses for income tax cuts, have been skeptical
about how Clinton will come up with money to add an expensive
new prescription drug benefit to the already cash-strapped
Change won't be cheap. The Congressional Budget Office
estimates that adding even a modest drug benefit to Medicare
will cost $30 billion.
Expenses outpace income
The subject of expensive drugs is already a familiar one to
Egan. Like many retirees, the New Yorker has several
prescriptions, in her case for cancer, diabetes and high
blood pressure. None of them are covered by Medicare.
Egan is among the fortunate Medicare recipients who have
other insurance for drugs, but she still pays $107 a month in
premiums and $5 to $10 for each prescription. That coverage,
however, ends next year.
It's a national trend -- medical expenses for Medicare
recipients that exceed what Medicare will cover. Surveys show
that the people least likely to have prescription drug
coverage are the poor and the sick.
Congress and the Clinton Administration are to battle
over the 34-year-old Medicare program in the next several
"We hear every kind of story," says Diane Archer of the
Medicare Rights Center, a non-profit organization which
operates a telephone hot line to counsel Medicare
beneficiaries who cannot afford private assistance.
Some callers "aren't paying their electric (bill) in order to
get their medicine," Archer told CNN, while others "aren't
getting their medicine in order to pay their electric."
Earn more, pay more?
Mollie Bersin doesn't have to make such a drastic choice.
Even so, the California retiree sees more and more of her
income going toward health care.
Federal government assistance program for elderly and
disabled; 39 million beneficiaries; does not provide
prescription drug coverage, which is available through
private "Medigap" policies, or through the government's
Medicaid program which provides medical assistance to
Like everyone else with Medicare insurance, she pays the
standard $45.50 monthly premium. Bersin could probably pay
more, if she had to, but "I wouldn't like it."
Charging a higher Medicare premium to those who can afford it
-- the so-called "means test" -- is so controversial,
however, that it's not expected to be included in whatever
Medicare reform is eventually adopted.
That troubles Robert Moffett of the Heritage Foundation, an
organization that says it is "committed to rolling back the
liberal welfare state."
"Right now, today, all Medicare beneficiaries, regardless of
their income, get heavy subsidies from the government,"
Moffett said. "For every dollar that the elderly pay for
Medicare benefits, the taxpayer subsidizes them by about
Egan's supplemental insurance that helps pay for
expensive prescription medicine ends next year
Moffett argues that lower-income working people end up
subsidizing the health care costs of higher income retirees.
But Patricia Smith of the American Association of Retired
Persons says younger, working people already get a break.
"They get substantial employee and consumer tax deductions
and exclusions," Smith told CNN. "Those are, in fact,
subsidies from the federal government for their health care
(that) apply whether you are higher income or not."
Meantime, if Washington decides Bersin must pay more for her
Medicare coverage, she'll do it. But she'll also expect the
government to give her more benefits.
Correspondents Chris Black, Brooks Jackson and Don Knapp
contributed to this report, which was written by Jim Morris.
Prescription drug aid for elderly poor
June 28, 1999
Clinton set to debut Medicare rescue plan
June 28, 1999
Clinton drug plan right prescription for Medicare?
June 27, 1999
Clinton drops Medicare prescription drug change
June 26, 1999
Bankruptcy of Social Security, Medicare delayed
March 30, 1999
Slower spending is likely to postpone Medicare crisis
March 29, 1999
Democrats say Republican budget sacrifices Medicare for tax cuts
March 18, 1999
Medicare -- U.S. Government Site for Medicare
Medicare Rights Center
American Association of Retired Persons
American Association of Health Plans
PhRMA - Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America
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