Lead Democrat on Aging Committee calls for immediate action in saving seniors, states millions in drug costs

WASHINGTON - The Senate Special Committee on Aging, co-chaired by Ranking Member Herb Kohl (D-WI), today held a hearing examining the problems and confusion resulting from the implementation of the Medicare Part D drug benefit, including the impact on "dual-eligibles," those who qualify for both Medicare and Medicaid.

"We can act right now to fix these problems," said Kohl who has made numerous attempts to preempt possible problems with the transition of low-income and disabled Medicaid recipients, also known as "dual eligibles," to the new Medicare prescription drug plan. These efforts include holding an Aging Committee hearing in March 2005 to examine the problems, as well as contacting Secretary Leavitt on numerous occasions to express concern over the potential and existing problems surrounding implementation of the benefit. Repeatedly, HHS and CMS assured Kohl and Congress that the implementation of the new benefit would be smooth and not cause undue burden on seniors or states.

Many states, including Wisconsin, have had to step in to provide emergency coverage of drugs to avert a public health emergency. Last week, Kohl joined Senate Democrats in introducing the Requiring Emergency Pharmaceutical Access for Individual Relief (REPAIR) Act, which will provide guaranteed access to prescription drugs to beneficiaries who have enrolled in a plan that does not cover their necessary medications; reduce the burden on pharmacists; provide federal reimbursement to states and beneficiaries who have incurred unexpected costs; and provide additional protections for low-income Medicare beneficiaries. He is also a cosponsor of the Medicare Informed Choice Act, which would extend the enrollment period for Part D and allow beneficiaries to make a one-time change of drug plan in order to help them find the most suitable plan for their needs.

"Earlier this week, I met with seniors, individuals with disabilities, pharmacists, and advocates in Milwaukee, who have been working around the clock to help people get the drugs they need. The Administration needs to show that same commitment, and they must look at what can be done to rectify the serious problems that exist with Medicare Part D."