LET Medicare needs updating

By Rep. Tom Latham

President Lyndon Johnson signed the Medicare program into law on July 30, 1965.

Much has changed in our world since 1965, and medicine has changed and advanced by great measures since Johnson set his pen to paper on that day 37 years ago.

Across Iowa and the nation there has been increasingly urgent calls for fundamental changes in Medicare to compensate for out changed world. Unfortunately, the program has not been significantly modernized since its inception and is clearly not meeting the needs of Iowa seniors as well as it should.

Nobody dreamed in 1965 about the amazing advancements we'd see in medicine and pharmaceuticals. Today, innovative prescription drugs more effectively treat conditions that were treated through invasive procedures in 1965.


If President Johnson had known how strong a role prescription drugs play in medicine in 2002, he certainly would have included a comprehensive drug benefit in the program. Regrettably, Medicare doesn't account for medicine's new reality. And, because of that lack of foresight, Iowa seniors are often left paying the high prices of prescription drugs. I have heard all too often stories of seniors who are forced to make the choice between filling a needed prescription and buying food for their table.

As the son of an 85-year-old mother on Medicare, I find that absolutely unacceptable.

Iowa also faces unique challenges with the Medicare program. While our state has the 5th highest population of people age 65 in the nation, we currently rank dead last in overall Medicare reimbursement. These sobering statistics create a Medicare reimbursement inequity that threatens the quality and accessibility of health care options for Iowa seniors.

This past year I was asked to serve on the House of Representatives Prescription Drug Action Team. Through my role on this team, I helped pass historic legislation that was the first comprehensive modernization of the Medicare program since its creation.

All five members of Iowa's bi-partisan House congressional delegation supported the bill with their votes. All five supported it, one Democrat and four Republicans, because we know that it is a good bill for Iowa seniors and Iowa health care.

The legislation, the Medicare Modernization and Prescription Drug Benefit Act of 2002, provides $350 billion over 10 years for voluntary prescription drug coverage and Medicare reforms to preserve and strengthen the program.

The measure provides $310 billion for the voluntary prescription drug benefit. With a $250 deductible and premium of $33 per month, seniors pay 20 percent of the costs between $251 and $1,000, 50 percent between $1,101 and $2,000. And the bill ensures that the life savings of our seniors are safe with the addition of a catastrophic coverage provision that pays for all costs after $3,700.

This legislation also has great news for Iowa health care. The bill provides an estimated $41 million per year in additional funding for Iowa health care to mark the first step toward fixing the Iowa reimbursement inequity problem in the Medicare program.


As you can see, this legislation is a positive development for Iowa seniors and Iowa health care. Unfortunately, some are making false claims about what this bill does or who supports the bill. Let me assure you that this bill does not privatize Medicare, it does not cut our seniors' benefits, it does not reduce Iowa Medicare funds, and it certainly does not force seniors to purchase another insurance program to cover their prescriptions.

Those making these false claims are simply not being honest in an attempt to scare and confuse seniors on this important health care issue for nothing more than political gain.

After holding numerous seniors' town meetings to discuss the newly approved legislation, I am happy to report that hundreds of seniors I met with are supportive of the bill.

President Bush has indicated that he will support the House-approved measure that has been endorsed by the Iowa Hospital Association, American Hospital Association, American Medical Association, National Rural Health Association, National Association for Home Care, American Physical Therapy Association, and over 80 other national health care and senior advocacy groups.

For the first time in the history of the program we are very close to making significant improvements that will ensure that Medicare is there to protect seniors for many years to come.

Let us hope that the House and Senate can show the same bi-partisan spirit as the Iowa House delegation did in getting this measure to the president's desk for his signature before the end of the year.

Latham, a Republican, represents northern Iowa in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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