House leaders were in a hurry, as salesmen with
an inferior product to sell so often are.
Many of their congressional colleagues wanted
more time to study the $395-billion Medicare bill,
arguing that the initiative before them was so
expensive -- and, at 678 pages, so complex --
that they needed more than the 24 hours allotted
to read it.
But the coalition of pharmaceutical industry apparatchiks
and political illusionists who had crafted the
bill in secret knew nothing good could come from
closer scrutiny of their work.
The more conservatives read, the more obvious
it would be that the Medicare bill's authors had
abandoned any serious effort to restrain drug
The more liberals read, the more incensed they'd
become at how many tax dollars and how much control
over Medicare's future had been yielded to for-profit
health care providers.
And the more seniors read, the more they'd realize
that the bill's prescription-drug benefit might
leave many of them with less money in their pockets.
My suspicion is that neither the eight House Republicans
from Michigan who voted for the Medicare bill
nor the six Michigan Democrats and lone GOP holdout
who voted against it have actually read the thing
from start to finish. They simply haven't had
The final text of the House-Senate compromise
hatched between 10 Republican lawmakers and two
Democratic senators -- House Democrats, including
Michigan's most venerable health policy maven
John Dingell, were excluded -- wasn't available
until late Thursday.
On Sunday -- more than 24 hours after it passed
the House, 220-215, in a vote that concluded just
before sunrise Saturday, details of the bill were
still dribbling out.
The bill provides a government prescription-drug
benefit for 40 million Medicare recipients. But
that doesn't mean all those people will spend
less of their own money on prescription drugs.
Some retirees who receive relatively generous
prescription coverage from their former employers
will likely lose it when the Medicare drug benefit
kicks in. Debbie Stabenow, the junior Democratic
senator from Michigan, predicts that 143,000 Michigan
retirees will be dropped from private plans.
But the Medicare bill's most damning shortcoming
is its failure to address soaring drug prices.
Language that would have allowed the government
to negotiate prices directly with manufacturers
and permitted the importation of lower-cost drugs
from Canada was omitted from the final bill at
drug manufacturers' insistence.
As a result, the Consumers Union says, rising
drug prices will likely offset the new Medicare
coverage, leaving most seniors with higher drug
costs by 2007.
Another provision deleted from the final legislation
is even more telling.
The Senate's version of the Medicare bill included
language that would have limited Congress' own
prescription-drug coverage to the benefits provided
for Medicare recipients. In the compromise bill
made public Thursday, that what's-good-for-the-goose
provision had disappeared.
In the end, lawmakers must have realized that
the only seniors certain to profit from the new
prescription benefit are those who were prescient
enough to invest their retirement savings in drug
Contact BRIAN DICKERSON at 248-351-3697 or via
e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted: November 28, 2003