Monday, January 16, 2006

Heck of a job, Brownie

Can't you just feel it coming? That was Festus a day or two after New Orleans drowned complimenting the head of FEMA. No reason to think he won't say the same about his new Medicaid Prescription boondongle and throw in a medal while he's at it.

With tens of thousands of people unable to get medicines promised by Medicare, the Bush administration has told insurers that they must provide a 30-day supply of any drug that a beneficiary was previously taking, and it said that poor people must not be charged more than $5 for a covered drug, the New York Times reports. The actions came after several states declared public health emergencies, and many states announced that they would step in to pay for prescriptions that should have been covered by the federal Medicare program. Mark B. McClellan, administrator of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, tells the Times that "several hundred thousand beneficiaries who switched plans" in December may have had difficulty filling prescriptions in the last two weeks. In California alone, officials estimate that 200,000 of the state's 1.1 million low-income Medicare beneficiaries had trouble getting their medications.

Republicans have joined Democrats in asserting that the federal government botched the beginning of the prescription drug program, which started on Jan. 1. People who had signed up for coverage found that they were not on the government's list of subscribers. Insurers said they had no way to identify poor people entitled to extra help with their drug costs. Pharmacists spent hours on the telephone trying to reach insurance companies that administer the drug benefit under contract to Medicare. Many of the problems involve low-income people entitled to both Medicare and Medicaid. In a directive sent to all Medicare drug plans over the weekend, the Bush administration said they "must take immediate steps" to ensure that low-income beneficiaries were not charged more than $2 for a generic drug and $5 for a brand-name drug. In addition, it said insurers must cover a 30-day emergency supply of drugs that beneficiaries were taking prior to the start of the new program.

This is really bad. It is a perfect example of K-Street legislation where the fine print is dictated by the phama lobbies and a bizarre free-market notion where anyone who wants to can offer a drug plan which can cherry pick expensive drugs they can omit from their plans.