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Important Medicare legislation passes

By Staff
Congressman Jo Bonner
Anyone who has spent any time in front of the television during the past several weeks has undoubtedly seen what has become a well-known commercial nationwide.
Well, the House did "get it done." In a marathon vote early Saturday, the House passed the conference report for H.R. 1, the Medicare Prescription Drug and Modernization Act of 2003. Just a few days later, the Senate also passed the legislation.
Let me say at the outset that this is not a perfect plan. No plan is perfect, and it would be unrealistic to expect that this measure would provide a complete solution to the challenges of providing drug coverage for millions of American seniors.
However, this is an important accomplishment, and I would like to take some time this week to explain how this measure will benefit the families of south Alabama.
Highlights of the legislation
H.R. 1 makes such large-scale changes to Medicare and cannot easily be summarized. However, here are some of the specifics of the plan and how they will directly affect Alabamians:
* Within six months of the bill being signed into law by President Bush, Alabama residents will become eligible for a prescription drug discount card which will provide between 10 and 25 percent in savings off the price of prescription drugs.
* In 2006, every Medicare beneficiary in Alabama will be eligible for prescription drug coverage through a Medicare-approved plan. These plans will be available for an approximate $35 per month premium and will in turn lead to savings of more than 50 percent on their medication.
* For single beneficiaries with an annual income of less than $12,123, or for a couple with a joint income of less than $16,362, this measure would provide an additional $600 in financial assistance. This money can be used for the cost of prescription medication and in combination with the previously-mentioned discount card.
* In addition to the additional $600 in coverage, beneficiaries meeting these income criteria will qualify for additional benefits including the elimination of the prescription drug premium, and the required co-payment will be nominal ($2 for generic and $5 for brand name drugs).
* The Medicare program will now assume responsibility for the prescription drug costs of nearly 140,000 Alabamians who are currently eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid coverage.
There are also certain other provisions of the program worth noting. To begin with, participation in the prescription drug program is strictly voluntary and seniors can choose whether or not they want to enroll.
Additionally, this plan includes an option for seniors to add a prescription drug benefit to their traditional Medicare fee-for-service program without the loss of any currently existing benefits.
Finally, Medicare will pay up to 75 percent of drug costs up to $2,250 per year. The new catastrophic coverage provision calls for the payment of 95 percent of drug costs over $3,600.
Along with these new provisions, H.R. 1 includes several provisions in the areas of preventive care and disease management. At the beginning of enrollment in the Medicare program, beneficiaries will be eligible for a preliminary physical examination to determine their current health status and to make a decision on potential future care needs. Medicare's basic benefits program will also be expanded to include the costs associated with cholesterol and blood lipid screenings.
Individuals will also be able to participate in health savings accounts and make annual tax deductible contributions of up to $2,600 for an individual and $5,150 for a family. For those over the age of 55, additional contributions of up to $1,000 can be made.
Regardless of how they felt about this particular piece of legislation, one thing I did learn was that, to a person, every one of my colleagues feels strongly that our seniors deserve the best we can provide for them.
This bill makes a first step towards providing the care our seniors deserve. You can be assured passage of this bill does not mark the end of this debate, and in the time ahead I will continue to do all I can to provide the best possible voice for seniors in the First District and be the best possible advocate for their interests.
Please call or write whenever we can be of service.
Congressman Jo Bonner is a Republican from Mobile. His offices may be reached by calling toll-free to 1-800-288-8721 or by e-mail at www.house.gov/bonner