EL MIRAGE, Ariz. – Shifting his focus from the war in Iraq to the home front, President Bush on Monday prodded sons and daughters to help their parents sign up for the new Medicare prescription-drug benefit.

Bush touted the drug plan to senior citizens in Arizona and California. The drug coverage starts Jan. 1, and senior citizens will get their enrollment packets by mail in October.

Some advocates for seniors worry that the plan’s complexity will scare off elderly Americans and keep enrollment low. Medicare recipients will face a variety of drug plans, with different options for different income groups.

The monthly premium for drug coverage is expected to be about $32, but the Health and Human Services Department announced Monday that most Medicare recipients also will have the option of a stripped-down plan for less than $20 a month.

Seniors who earn less than $15,000 a year will get the most generous benefits, with minimal premiums. Medicare officials estimate that about one-third of older Americans can quality for the low-income coverage.

Bush got a chance to see the skepticism among seniors when he urged audience members who are struggling financially to apply for the low-income program. The Social Security Administration started mailing application forms to low-income seniors earlier this summer.

“The good news is, it’s a simple application. It’s four pages long,” the president said, drawing titters from an audience that didn’t seem to appreciate the government’s attempt at simplicity.

“Well, it could be 40,” Bush responded. “Big print.”

He called on younger Americans to help their parents navigate the system.

“All of us have a duty to find out what’s available for our parents,” he said during a visit to the Pueblo El Mirage RV and Golf Resort near Phoenix.

The president spoke to about 400 residents and workers at a mobile home park that requires residents to be at least 55 years old.

He delivered a similar pitch later in the day at a senior citizens’ center in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.

Although Bush came to Arizona to talk about Medicare, he also touched on two other hot topics: soaring gas prices and illegal immigration. Some audience members muttered in agreement when he bemoaned rising prices at the gas pump.

“I wish I could just snap my fingers and lower the price of gasoline for you,” he said. “I’d be snappin’ if I could do it.”

Turning to immigration, the president didn’t mention his proposal for a new guest-worker program that would let millions of illegal immigrants get legal status. Instead, he promised to step up efforts to stop illegal border crossings.

Earlier this month, the governors of Arizona and New Mexico declared states of emergency in border counties hard-hit by illegal immigration. In both states, the declarations cleared the way for state grants to help the counties deal with the impact of the illegal immigration.

“We have an obligation to enforce the borders,” Bush said to enthusiastic applause. “We’ll have more folks on the border. There will be more detention space to make sure that those who are stopped trying to enter our country illegally are able to be detained.”



More information on the prescription-drug benefit is available at www.medicare.gov or by calling 1-800-MEDICARE.



(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

AP-NY-08-29-05 1841EDT


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