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Alaska Seniors Need to Apply for their Drug Aid Now
by Senator Lisa Murkowski


May 10, 2004

Alaska Seniors for years have been waiting to gain help in being able to afford the cost of their medical prescriptions. The wait is now over.

Starting on May 3, Alaska's 47,000 seniors will have the opportunity to enroll in the first stage of a prescription drug benefit program that we in Congress approved for seniors last year. On that date Alaskans will be able to choose from some of 39 different drug discount card programs, all of which offer different levels of savings for different types of drugs.

While Alaskans can expect to save between 15 and 25 percent (and for one medicine up to 48 percent) -- depending upon which card program they sign up for -- it is important that Alaskans carefully study the programs and pick the one that best meets their medical needs. All of the plans can be reviewed on the Medicare website at - the website explaining how much every drug will cost in each discount card program, so that Alaskans can select the card that best meets their needs based on price and participating pharmacies.

Low-income seniors, who don't already have drug coverage through Medicaid, will have $600 placed on their cards in each of the next two years to spend on discounted drugs. That will help them until the full Medicare prescription reform program takes effect in 2006. There appears to be some misinformation developing about that program. Let me attempt to dispel the myths with facts.

The Medicare Modernization Act had one special interest in mind: seniors. I've traveled across the state in my time as Senator and I've had seniors tell me that they can not afford to purchase the drugs that their doctor tells them they need in order to treat their high blood pressure. I've talked with seniors who couldn't find a doctor to treat them. I've talked with seniors who want Medicare to offer more preventive services to keep them healthy in the first place.

I told each of them that I agreed with them, and that I would take these messages to Washington and fight on their behalf. And that's just what I did.

Alaskans need to know that 8,700 seniors in Alaska, who currently don't have drug coverage today, will have coverage for the first time under the new Medicare benefit. Some 20,100 Alaskans are going to pay little or no premium to get a drug benefit - one where brand name prescriptions will cost $5 while generic drugs will cost $3. Another 2,650 Alaskans will pay reduced premiums and deductibles for drug coverage. And when the full program goes into effect, the average senior in Alaska, who spends $1,600 per year on drugs, will have their drug costs cut in half.

The Medicare act also lowers drug prices by closing drug pricing loopholes, allowing generics to compete with brand name drugs sooner, and by allowing the prescription drug plans to negotiate drug prices for seniors. There's been a lot of criticism of the provision that doesn't allow Medicare itself to negotiate drug prices. But Alaskans need to know that provision wasn't developed for last year's bill, it was developed by Senators Tom Daschle, John Kerry, and Ted Kennedy and included in the Medicare drug bill they introduced in 2000. It was done because the Congressional Budget Office found that allowing prescription drug plans to negotiate drug prices with the drug companies will save seniors $18 billion over the next decade.

The number crunchers discovered that the government doesn't do as good a job of getting lower drug prices as private plans do. Our goal was to allow seniors to have access to the lowest priced drugs possible.

The truth about the new Medicare act is that Alaska's seniors are the special interest we had in mind. Reducing Americans' drug costs, reducing seniors' out-of-pocket drug spending, improving Medicare payments to physicians, new coverage for cholesterol screenings, new coverage for diabetes screenings, better coverage for mammography, new "Welcome to Medicare" physical exams, and much more. The truth is that we didn't form a prescription drug task force and call it a day - Congress actually improved seniors' benefits, and Alaskans are entitled to the truth about the new Medicare benefits.

Medicare has been providing vital health care to seniors in Alaska since 1965, and it will continue to do so for years to come. Now seniors will not only have medical benefits, but also the option to voluntarily enroll in affordable prescription drug coverage. The Medicare improvements are creating options for seniors in Alaska for the very first time in the history of the program. I encourage Alaskans who have questions to contact any of the members of the congressional delegation, or call 1-800-MEDICARE for more information.




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