Prescription drug coverage must change

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The inception of Medicare Part D has added to the financial crises of many seniors.

Do you want to pay more for your prescription medications? Neither do Maine’s seniors.

I answered phones at a local doctor’s office two summers ago, and was astonished by the calls each day from individuals, especially senior citizens, who ordered prescription drugs by mail or from Canada because they could not otherwise afford to buy these medications.

The Bush administration has tried to answer the problem of high drug prices with the introduction of Medicare Part D, the new federal prescription drug benefit program. However, this new legislation is only adding to the crisis at hand.

Since the inception of Medicare D, seniors with Medicare have had to face the frustrations of higher drug prices, the confusion of picking 1 of 41 different private drug plans, and the dangers of not having necessary medicines due to the rocky transition process and benefit changes.

It is time for the federal government to stop focusing on how to reorganize insurance drug benefits and to start improving drug coverage by cutting prices.

Privatization of Medicare prescription drug services may also mean that seniors on tight budgets will be forced to give up needed benefits for less expensive coverage. Though monthly premiums may cost as little as $19.60 per month, this constitutes only the least expensive plan with the fewest benefits. The average senior will pay a premium of about $35 per month in order to ensure that their medications will be covered under the new system.

Seniors and others with Medicare whose health requires expensive yearly drug bills will also suffer. A “doughnut hole” exists in prescription drug coverage that forces enrollees to pay 100 percent of their drug costs between $2,250 and $5,100 each year, regardless of their monthly premium.

I will never forget one phone call I received while working at the doctor’s office. An elderly woman phoned to ask if her doctor could write a note of medical necessity for her electricity because she could not afford to pay her power bill and Central Maine Power was going to turn off her power. My father, a doctor, told me that this is not a rare request.

The price of prescription medications certainly contributes to this problem.

The medical coverage provided for veterans can serve as a prime model of affordable benefits, particularly in consideration of the high costs of prescription drugs.

The Department of Veterans Affairs saves 52 percent off the average wholesale price of drugs by purchasing in bulk.

Additionally, Mainers are well aware of the affordability of drugs in Canada, which is able to offer medications to its citizens at about 40 percent off wholesale prices by negotiating bulk prices with U.S.-based drug companies.

We must continue to talk about this issue in Maine.

A proper solution to providing affordable and simple prescription drug benefits requires a complete revamp of prescription drug coverage in America.

Until then, Maine’s seniors and low-income individuals everywhere will suffer from inadequate and costly prescription drug services.

We must demand that our government cap drug prices and maintain a role in providing insurance coverage to seniors and disabled individuals so the cost of prescription services can be controlled.

No one should have to weigh the benefits and costs of medicines and electricity.

Abby Burns of Auburn is a student at Stanford University.

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