Groups want drug plan reform; Area seniors urged to demand changes to Medicare Part D

‘Groups want drug plan reform; Area seniors urged to demand changes to Medicare Part D benefit'

Charleston Gazette (WV)
By Paul J. Nyden
Staff writer

Larry Matheny, vice president of the West Virginia AFL-CIO, opened a meeting at Cross Lanes Unity Apartments Wednesday afternoon by urging senior citizens to actively oppose the new Medicare Part D prescription drug program.

"The system in place, favored by the Bush administration, benefits the richest Americans, especially the pharmaceutical companies," Matheny said.

West Virginians United, the group sponsoring the program, is a coalition of the AFL-CIO, West Virginia Health Right, Alliance for Retired Americans, the state chapter of the National Association of Social Workers and the West Virginia Citizen Action Group.

Delegate Don Perdue, D-Wayne, who chairs the House's Health and Human Services Committee, expressed concerns about the "doughnut hole" in the new Medicare drug plans.

In addition to monthly Medicare premiums ranging from $25 to $34, seniors must pay all of their prescription drug costs up to $250, then 25 percent of all costs between $251 and $2,250.

But then seniors get hit with 100 percent of all drug costs between $2,251 and $5,100 - known as the "doughnut hole."

Only when senior citizens' annual drug costs exceed $5,100 does their share drop to 5 percent.

Perdue, a pharmacist himself, believes many West Virginia seniors "will hit that doughnut hole in late September or October."

Perdue also told seniors gathered at the apartment complex in Cross Lanes that "health care is not a free-market system in the United States."

"It is not a free market when someone can put a gun to your head and say, ‘Your money or your life.' And it is not a free market when consumers cannot interact with the [drug] providers," Perdue said.

Perdue said the average cost of a prescription purchased at his pharmaceutical counters is $65.

"We cannot win this politically behind closed doors," Perdue added. "People have to go to the streets, talk to politicians and get people to vote."

Ted Boettner, who represented the West Virginia-Citizen Action Group at the meeting, criticized exclusive federal patents.

"Nearly half of the money for pharmaceutical research, which is about $27 billion a year, comes from the federal government. Then drug companies get patents to keep a monopoly over the sale of those drugs for years after they are developed," Boettner said.

West Virginians United backs three changes in the current Medicare law:

Through meetings, leaflets and e-mails, West Virginians United urges seniors to ask their legislators to reform Part D and make the Medicare program "simple, affordable and guaranteed" for seniors and people with disabilities.

To contact staff writer Paul J. Nyden, use e-mail or call 348-5164.