Interesting Times

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Wednesday, March 15, 2006; 11:39 AM

It may rank up there as one of the greater Bush understatements of all time.

Taking his talk-show-style, no-dissenters-allowed road show to upstate New York yesterday -- this time to defend his administration's Medicare prescription drug benefit -- President Bush uncorked a whopper about the program's botched rollout:

"Anytime Washington passes a new law, sometimes the transition period can be interesting," he said.

David E. Sanger writes in the New York Times: "That was something of an understatement. The White House was flooded with complaints about retirees who could not obtain their drugs at the promised discount, and [as Robert Pear reported on Monday,] independent pharmacists from Texas complained in recent days to Karl Rove, the president's deputy chief of staff and political strategist, that they had been forced to give out millions of dollars of prescription drugs and had not been reimbursed."

"Interesting isn't the word senior citizen advocates use to describe it," writes Judith Graham in the Chicago Tribune.

" 'It's an enormous mess . . . a real nightmare,' said Jeanne Finberg, an attorney at the National Senior Citizens Law Center."

Graham got an up-close look at the kinds of problems Medicare recipients are facing when she tried to help Frank Cartalino, a transplant patient, figure out why his pharmacy had suddenly billed him $500 for the drugs he needs to stay alive, and that used to be covered.

"It took more than a dozen phone calls for the Tribune to sort through the mind-numbing complexities of Medicare and figure out where things had gone wrong," she writes.

"Days of research revealed the root of his problem: Staff members working with pharmacies, insurance plans and government agencies don't really understand how Medicare's new drug benefit coordinates with other parts of the vast health program. And thousands of patients with organ transplants and other illnesses are getting caught in the middle."

Here's some more background on the "interesting period":

Ceci Connolly wrote in The Washington Post in January: "Two weeks into the new Medicare prescription drug program, many of the nation's sickest and poorest elderly and disabled people are being turned away or overcharged at pharmacies, prompting more than a dozen states to declare health emergencies and pay for their life-saving medicines."

Local papers have chronicled the debacle in their backyards.

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