Washington, D.C. – In a speech he gave on the Senate floor today, U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., took colleagues to task who are disparaging the efforts of U.S. troops in Iraq. Enzi also took time to give seniors a heads up on the new Medicare prescription drug discount cards debuting soon.
The written text of Enzi's Medicare/prescription drug speech is posted below. An excerpt of the audio from his speech containing Iraq remarks can also be accessed by clicking the link on this page. The clip is about four minutes long.
U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi
Senate floor speech on Medicare
Thursday April 29, 2004
Senate floor speech on Medicare
Thursday April 29, 2004
Last year, Congress passed a major set of improvements and enhancements to Medicare. Most importantly, Congress added a meaningful prescription drug benefit to this important program for seniors and the disabled. The bill passed with bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate.
Next week, we will take the first step in the history of Medicare toward providing seniors with the help they need to pay for their prescription drugs. One would think that this would be a momentous occasion, worthy of widespread support from members of both parties.
Unfortunately, some members of the minority party and some of their allies are determined to scare seniors away from getting more affordable drugs through Medicare. They are willing to scare seniors to score political points, and that is a shame.
Next week, seniors will be eligible to choose a new drug discount card endorsed by Medicare. Seniors will then be able to compare drug prices available through more than 70 different cards nationwide. They can then pick the card that gives them the best prices on the drugs they take, beginning June 1.
This is a historic new benefit for seniors. I hope that we can leave politics behind and work together to give seniors accurate information and education about these new Medicare drug discount cards. Regardless of how we voted, we have an obligation to let seniors know the real story about the savings they could receive if they sign up for these new discount cards.
I've talked with seniors in Wyoming about the new Medicare law. From my experience, the more they hear about it, the more they like what they hear. Seniors are a lot smarter than some people want to give them credit for. They know a good deal when they see one.
The problem right now is that the political static is obscuring the true picture of what the changes to Medicare mean to seniors. So I'd like to remind my colleagues of what those changes are, and what they mean.
This year, as I've mentioned, seniors will be able to sign up for a drug discount card endorsed by Medicare. The most a card will cost is $30. Some cards will cost less than $30, and some may even be free.
Seniors will be able to choose from a variety of cards. They will be able to use their cards at their local pharmacies beginning on the first of June.
The discounts will vary, but overall, seniors may save at least 10 to 20 percent off the prices they pay now, if not more.
In addition, seniors with low incomes who sign up for a card will receive up to $600 in credit in 2004 and 2005 to help them pay for their prescriptions. A number of pharmaceutical companies have agreed to provide their branded drugs free of charge to seniors who exhaust their $600 credit.
To maximize their savings, seniors will have new tools and resources to find the best prices for the drugs they take. For instance, the Medicare Web site will have a price comparison tool so that seniors can compare prices on their drugs.
Now I know that many seniors and their families don't have access to the Internet at home. Medicare also has a toll-free number and is hiring hundreds of new operators to take calls from seniors and give them advice on the new discount cards. That number is 1-800-MEDICARE. All seniors will have to do is call 1-800-MEDICARE, and a real live human being will help them identify the best drug card options for them.
The Medicare drug discount cards are the first phase of our effort to bring Medicare into the twenty-first century. Beginning in 2005, we will take the next step by incorporating new preventive benefits into Medicare.
Prevention saves money and saves lives, and modern medicine is not complete without it. But for too long, Medicare hasn't covered the type of preventive care that helps to keep people healthy and out of the hospital.
That will all change in 2005. Beginning next year, Medicare will cover several new preventive services. Most importantly, Medicare will cover a physical exam for all Americans when they turn 65 and qualify for the program.
Medicare has never before covered physical exams, but now it will. And any physician who participates in Medicare will be able to conduct the exam, so seniors can rest assured that the doctor that knows them best will be able to give them their "Welcome to Medicare" physical.
Then, in 2006, the drug discount card will be replaced by comprehensive Medicare drug coverage.
The new coverage will be voluntary. If seniors don't want it -- maybe because they have coverage through their current or former employer -- they won't have to take it. And the new Medicare law provides plenty of incentive for employers to maintain their drug coverage, so retirees shouldn't assume that they will lose their current benefit.
Seniors who do sign up for Medicare drug coverage will be pleased with the protection and security it provides.
A nonpartisan analysis of the plan shows that the typical senior who currently lacks prescription drug insurance, but signs up for Medicare drug coverage in 2006, is likely to see a significant reduction in his or her medication bill. In fact, the typical senior is likely to see a 50 percent savings in out-of-pocket spending for prescription drugs.
Just as with the discount card, seniors with the greatest need will get the most help. Fully one-third of older Americans, those with the lowest incomes, will pay little or no premium for full drug coverage. Seniors with low incomes also won't have to pay more than a $5 co-pay for a prescription.
Finally, the Medicare drug benefit will protect the lifetime savings of seniors who face major drug bills. When the full benefit begins in 2006, Medicare will pick up 95 percent of all seniors' out-of-pocket drug costs above $3,600, regardless of income level.
No senior should have to lose decades of savings due to an unforeseen illness, and the new Medicare drug benefit will make sure of that.
Let me recap again what this bill does.
Next month, seniors can begin signing up for a Medicare-endorsed drug discount card that will save them 10 to 20 percent, at least, off retail drug prices. Seniors with low incomes will also get up to $600 in credit to help them pay for their prescriptions.
Next year, Medicare will cover new preventive benefits, including a "Welcome to Medicare" physical exam for all Americans when they turn 65.
And in 2006, Medicare will offer voluntary, comprehensive drug coverage, with special benefits for seniors with low incomes and seniors with high drug bills.
The new drug benefit will be voluntary. It will offer the most help to those who need the help most. And it will provide much-needed security and peace of mind to seniors who worry about losing their life savings in the event of a devastating illness.
Despite all of these good things, there are still some who insist on "talking down" this new Medicare drug benefit. There are some who are trying to convince seniors and their families that this is somehow a raw deal, a sham, or worse.
I hear these things, and I know that other members who voted for the Medicare bill from both sides of the aisle hear these things. And then I review again what the bill actually does, and I wonder what the problem is.
Well, Mr. President, I think I've finally figured out the problem.
The problem is that this new Medicare drug benefit doesn't fit the tired old storyline about Republicans and healthcare.
We Republicans know the story all too well. I'm surprised someone hasn't turned it into a children's book yet, so that kids can hear it when they are very young. Or maybe someone has.
The tired old story changes over time, but the main points are always the same.
The tired old story is that Republicans don't care about healthcare. They don't care if healthcare is affordable or available to everyone. They don't care if people with low incomes can get care when they need it. They don't care about seniors and their drug bills.
And the problem for the storytellers is that the facts on the Medicare drug benefit don't support their story.
Nevertheless, the storytellers persist in peddling this tale. It's so bad right now that some of the storytellers are trying to undo this important legislation before it even gets off the ground. In fact, some are completely reversing their longstanding positions on this issue, in an attempt to remove parts of the new Medicare law that are nearly identical to sections of their bills from recent years!
I understand why some in the minority are upset with the new Medicare law. They're upset because Republicans campaigned two years ago on a promise to pass a meaningful drug benefit for seniors, and we delivered on that promise.
Maybe I would be upset too if the tables were turned. But the reality is that now seniors have access to new benefits under Medicare, and they can sign up for the first new benefit – the drug discount card – beginning next week.
So let's do right by seniors and put politics aside for a moment. There will be plenty of time later for debating and campaigning.
The great majority of seniors will benefit from the new Medicare drug discount cards. Our job should be to work together to help seniors make the best decisions about their own healthcare and their own finances. Let's give them the right information so they can decide whether to sign up, and which card to choose. Let's do this now, because seniors deserve nothing less.