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Medicare legislation gets okay

By Staff
Anyone who has spent any time in front of the television during the past several weeks has undoubtedly seen what has become a well-known commercial nationwide.
The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) has distributed an advertisement imploring members of the House of Representatives and Senate to pass a Medicare prescription drug plan. It ends with the now famous line spoken by a senior citizen behind the wheel of a car who says, "When are you going to get it done?"
Well, the House did "get it done." In a marathon vote early one Saturday morning recently, the House passed the conference report for H.R. 1, the Medicare Prescription Drug and Modernization Act of 2003. Just a few days later, the Senate also passed the legislation.
Certainly these votes have been a long time coming, and they fulfill a promise Congress made a long time ago to America's seniors and Medicare beneficiaries to provide a quality, affordable prescription drug benefit.
Let me say at the outset that this is not a perfect plan. No plan is perfect, and it would be unrealistic to expect that this measure would provide a complete solution to the challenges of providing drug coverage for millions of American seniors.
However, this is an important accomplishment, and I would like to take some time this week to explain how this measure will benefit the families of south Alabama.
H.R. 1 makes such large-scale changes to Medicare that it cannot easily be summarized. However, here are some of the specifics of the plan and how they will directly affect Alabamians:
There are also certain other provisions of the program worth noting. To begin with, participation in the prescription drug program is strictly voluntary and seniors can choose whether or not they want to enroll.
Additionally, this plan includes an option for seniors to add a prescription drug benefit to their traditional Medicare fee-for-service program without the loss of any currently existing benefits.
Finally, Medicare will pay up to 75 percent of drug costs up to $2,250 per year. The new catastrophic coverage provision calls for the payment of 95 percent of drug costs over $3,600.
Along with these new provisions, H.R. 1 includes several provisions in the areas of preventive care and disease management. At the beginning of enrollment in the Medicare program, beneficiaries will be eligible for a preliminary physical examination to determine their current health status and to make a decision on potential future care needs. Medicare's basic benefits program will also be expanded to include the costs associated with cholesterol and blood lipid screenings.
Individuals will also be able to participate in health savings accounts and make annual tax deductible contributions of up to $2,600 for an individual and $5,150 for a family. For those over the age of 55, additional contributions of up to $1,000 can be made.
Again, this is not a perfect plan. During the hours of debate in the House prior to our Saturday morning vote, both those in favor of and those opposed to the Medicare conference report made strong arguments in support of their positions.
Regardless of how they felt about this particular piece of legislation, one thing I did learn was that, to a person, every one of my colleagues feels strongly that our seniors deserve the best we can provide for them.
This bill makes a first step towards providing the care our seniors deserve. You can be assured passage of this bill does not mark the end of this debate, and in the time ahead I will continue to do all I can to provide the best possible voice for seniors in the First District and be the best possible advocate for their interests.
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