The Medicare Drug Benefit: Worse Still

Last night AB noted that the “donut hole” in the prescription drug benefit created by the Republican Congress in 2003 is worse than you probably thought.

But that may actually turn out to be the smaller of many problems with the plan. A bigger one may be a growing sense that it is unfair, even immoral, to create a plan that makes such a mockery of the average senior citizen’s knowledge, time, energy and intelligence. Last week the LA Times wrote this:

Medicare Drug Plan Looks Like a Big Scam

One recent afternoon in Los Alamitos, I watched Marcy Zwelling-Aamot, M.D., pick her way through a government website designed to help elderly patients select the right Medicare drug plan, based on their prescription needs and hometown.

…Zwelling-Aamot is a private internist who accepts a limited number of patients but places herself at their beck and call. She and her staff have spent months helping her patients navigate the new benefit, a process that requires at least an hour and a half of research per patient (time for which she’s not compensated by Medicare). Like many other health professionals who have become familiar with this program, she has come to see it not as a boon for elderly consumers, but as a scandal.

“As a patient, you are totally hoodwinked by this system,” she told me. “It’s not just an economic tragedy; it’s a moral tragedy.”

But surely there’s help if you need it, right? Surely there are resources out there to ensure that overwhelmed (or even incapacitated) seniors will not get taken advantage of, right? Of course there are: Medicare officials reassure us that confused seniors just need to refer to the official web site for Medicare Drug Plan. Those seniors who are good at navigating the web (which seems to be about 31% of all seniors) can then find even more resources to help them in selecting their drug benefit plan. From their FAQs:

Question: Is there someone to help me choose a Medicare prescription drug plan?
Answer: Talk to a family member, friend, or other caregiver to help you decide what drug coverage meets your needs.

Great! Seniors who are confused by the new drug benefit just need to learn how to use the internet, and then ask someone else to help them make their decision. No problem!

But wait. A few days ago I received this email from a regular Angry Bear reader, who is a senior citizen who was a health care professional (working as both a provider and administrator) for 30 years. She writes that things aren’t as simple as that:

I am extremely knowledgeable about the health care industry. I know the ins and outs of the Medicare system, I know what questions to ask, I know what answers to look for. I have spent hours doing research on the Medicare drug plan and I still can not figure it out. It’s a good thing that I am blessed and don’t need drugs at this time. Aside from the the profit to drug and insurance companies, this program is an insult to the elderly. Why make them feel even more helpless than they already do by making it so that they must rely on others to make decisions? What if you don’t have caring children like I do? What if your friends or family don’t have the time or energy to figure this mess out with you? What if you can’t read? What if you don’t know what questions to ask? What if you literally can’t ask questions?

It is so immoral on so many levels.

Hmmm. Good points.

If the Democrats don’t run hard on this awful, awful program in the 2006 elections, then they don’t deserve to win a single additional vote.