WASHINGTON (AP) – In contrast to assurances from the Bush administration, most seniors enrolled in the Medicare drug benefit will pay higher monthly premiums if they stay with their current coverage, according to an analysis from Democratic congressional aides.

The administration has repeatedly said the monthly premium for prescription drug coverage in 2007 will average $24 – the same as this year. But Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said Thursday that his staff has concluded that average premiums will increase to $29.

Why the difference?

It’s all about methodology. The administration includes drug plans as well as managed care plans that offer drug coverage in its calculations. The managed care plans, called Medicare Advantage, offer comprehensive medical coverage and are heavily subsidized by the federal government.

But the great majority of seniors enrolled in the program – about 90 percent – chose a plan offering only drug coverage. Waxman contends that lumping insurance plans offering comprehensive medical care with those offering drug coverage is like mixing apples and oranges to produce an average price for fruit.

“It is not merely confusing arithmetic, it is deceptive advertising,” Waxman said.

Although not disputing the accuracy of Waxman’s estimate, Medicare head Mark McClellan said, “The congressman’s analysis is incomplete and misleading because it is selective, measuring just one of the plan options beneficiaries can use to get their prescription drugs.

McClellan, the outgoing administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said Waxman’s comments could discourage beneficiaries from evaluating all their 2007 Part D options.

On Friday, CMS will detail new tools the government will make available on the Medicare Web site to help beneficiaries find the best plan.

Trade groups representing insurers, chain drug stores and pharmacists unveiled a guide Thursday aimed at helping beneficiaries choose a drug plan. Most seniors will have more than 50 stand-alone plans to choose from, plus most have dozens of Medicare Advantage options. The guide can be found at http://www.healthdecisions.org/guide.

On the Net:

Official Medicare site: http://www.medicare.gov

Government Reform Committee Minority Office: http://www.democrats.reform.house.gov/story.asp?ID1125

AP-ES-10-12-06 1719EDT

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