U.S. Corporate Chiefs to Visit Quake Victims

President Bush is sending a delegation of business leaders, including General Electric Co. chief executive Jeffrey R. Immelt and Citigroup Inc. Chairman Sanford I. Weill, to Pakistan and India to assess the needs of victims of last month's earthquake.

To those affected by the quake, "we offer our assurance that America will be there to help," Bush said yesterday at the White House, where he was joined by Immelt; Weill; Hank McKinnell, chief executive of Pfizer Inc.; and James P. "Jim" Kelly, former chairman and chief executive of United Parcel Service.

They and Xerox Corp. Chairman Anne M. Mulcahy were named last month by the president to lead a private and corporate U.S. fundraising effort to aid the victims.

The United Nations has set a goal of raising $550 million to help the victims of the Oct. 8 temblor that killed more than 73,000 people in Pakistan and another 1,300 in India. As many as 40,000 people in higher elevations have not received help, according to U.N. officials.

Weill said he and the other four executives will be accompanied by State Department officials and will assess "what the needs really are."

Sign-Up Help May Be Needed for Drug Benefit

Millions of senior citizens and the disabled will probably need help enrolling in Medicare's prescription drug benefit, the Department of Health and Human Services' inspector general said.

Investigators surveyed beneficiaries who, during the past year, registered for temporary cards that offer 10 to 25 percent discounts on prescription drugs. A more comprehensive benefit will kick in on Jan. 1.

"Over one-third of enrolled beneficiaries needed help enrolling in a drug card, and drug plan enrollment will likely be more complicated," the report said.

The inspector general said the government should expand its efforts to reach potential beneficiaries beyond what it did for the discount card. It said most beneficiaries knew of the cards and where to go for information, such as 800-MEDICARE (800-633-42273) or the Medicare Web site. But only a fifth of beneficiaries contacted a source on their own.

Enrollment for the new benefit will begin on Monday and will continue through May 15. Insurers have been marketing their plans.

Broader Effort on Louisiana Wetlands Urged

The federal government is not pursuing the large-scale, integrated effort needed to restore Louisiana's coastal wetlands, according to a report released by the National Academy of Sciences.

"Federal, state and local officials, with the public's involvement, need to take a broader look at where land in coastal Louisiana should and can be restored, and at how some of the sediment-rich water of the Mississippi River should flow to achieve that," said Robert G. Dean, a professor of civil and coastal engineering at the University of Florida and one of the report's lead authors.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' planned restoration projects are all scientifically sound, the scientists said, but they could be designed to trap more sediment as the Mississippi River flows to the Gulf of Mexico.

National leaders have focused more on coastal erosion since hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit the region, though Congress has yet to supply more than $250 million to help restore wetlands affected by the storms.

-- From News Services and Staff Reports