A Better Medicare Drug Plan

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

I agree with Robert D. Novak that the Republican Medicare drug plan "may prove a severe liability for Republicans" in the midterm elections ["Rove's Medicare Blunder," op-ed, Jan. 9]. Seniors are right to blame Republicans, because this plan is somewhere between a bureaucratic nightmare and elder abuse.

But outing Karl Rove as the official Republican scapegoat obscures the truth. The Medicare bill was drafted with the most powerful Republican donors in mind: pharmaceutical and insurance companies. This is contrary to Mr. Novak's assertion that the bill was an attempt by Mr. Rove to court traditionally Democratic constituencies.

Instead of offering a drug benefit through Medicare, an efficient program trusted by seniors, Republicans followed an ideological belief in the market by forbidding Medicare from negotiating with pharmaceutical companies and handing the program over to private companies offering hundreds of plans. This is confusing, expensive and inefficient.

I also dispute Mr. Novak's assessment that little can be done by Republicans beyond convincing "seniors and conservatives that the program is really not that bad." Americans expect us to put their interests ahead of special interests. Republicans should join Democrats in their plan to extend the enrollment period and in efforts to allow Medicare to offer drug coverage directly and to negotiate prices much as the Department of Veterans Affairs does.


U.S. Senator (D-Ill.)


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