November 25, 2003
She also supported the bill because it will provide more aid to Alaska physicians to make it easier for Medicare patients to find and keep good doctors.
"Many of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle would like Americans to believe that this bill is designed to kill the health care promises for seniors made back in 1965. I'm here to tell you that Americans deserve more than rhetoric and scare tactics. Americans deserve a good drug prescription plan. They deserve to be able to get prescription drug coverage without being forced to join an HMO. And this bill does just that. It is designed to provide choice, not coercion," said Murkowski, during the Senate debates over Medicare reform.
"If seniors want to add prescription drug coverage to the Medicare plan they are in right now, they will have that option - their benefits will not be reduced or taken away. If seniors don't want the drug coverage, or if they are happy with the coverage they have now through their retirement plans, they won't have to accept the voluntary Medicare benefit. The bottom line is that anyone who likes Medicare can keep it the way it is today because this is a purely voluntary benefit," said Murkowski.
The bill currently includes a number of incentives to ensure that employers don't react by dropping current benefits. But she said that Alaskans, especially, need the new benefits offered since prescription drugs are so expensive in Alaska. "There's been a lot of rhetoric about the drug benefit, but if you cut through all of that and actually crunch the numbers, you'll find the undisputable fact that the average senior citizen after paying their premiums and deductibles proposed under the new plan will save about 63 percent on the cost of their drugs. And those seniors with limited income and limited savings, which is about half of Alaska's senior citizens, will have closer to 90 percent of their drug costs covered.
"This is not a skimpy benefit," said Murkowski, who noted that all senior citizens in Alaska will have access to a Medicare prescription drug benefit for the first time in history. Beginning in 2006, the agreement will give 9,084 Medicare beneficiaries in Alaska access to drug coverage they would not otherwise have and improve coverage for many more.
She said that within six months of passage, Alaskans will be eligible for a Medicare-approved prescription drug discount card, which will provide them with savings of between 10 and 25 percent off of the retail price of most drugs. Alaska beneficiaries with incomes of less than $15,134 ($20,439 for couples) who lack prescription drug coverage will get up to $600 in annual assistance to help them afford their medicines, along with the discount card. That represents a total of $10.5 million in additional help for 8,767 Alaskans in 2004 and 2005.
Beginning in 2006, all 47,295 Alaskan Medicare beneficiaries will be eligible to get prescription drug coverage through a Medicare-approved plan. In exchange for a monthly premium of about $35, seniors who are now paying the full retail price for drugs will be able to cut their drug costs roughly in half. In many cases they'll save more than 50 percent on what they pay for their prescription medicines.
Of that number, 20,147 Alaskan beneficiaries who have limited savings and low incomes will qualify for even more generous coverage. They will pay no premiums for their prescription drug coverage and will be responsible for a nominal co-payment (no more than $2 for generic drugs or $5 for brand name drugs). Another 2,650 low-income beneficiaries in Alaska (those with incomes below $16,815 or $22,710 for couples) will qualify for reduced premiums, lower deductibles and coinsurance with no gaps in coverage.
Under the bill Medicare, instead of Medicaid, will assume the prescription drug costs for 12,354 Alaskans who are eligible for both programs. This will save Alaska state government $50 million over eight years.
Murkowski said the Medicare reform does far more than just provide the prescription assistance. It adds preventive health care benefits, such as screening tests to detect heart disease. It provides additional aid for the chronic diseases of asthma and diabetes and it will encourage disease management protocols to help seniors "navigate the often confusing health care system and get them access to vital specialty care and educational resources."
Murkowski said another big benefit for Alaskans is that it funnels more money to reimburse doctors for treating Medicare patients. Currently Medicare only covers about 37 percent of a physician's actual cost of treating an Alaska Medicare patient. For that reason doctors can't afford to treat more Medicare patients, there being somewhere between 1,000 and 2,000 citizens in Anchorage alone who can't find doctors at present. Murkowski said the current bill provides a fix for low reimbursement rates statewide.
"Some say Medicare is 'good the way it is.' But it is not good for Alaskans, particularly for Alaskans who are being denied a choice of doctors and in many cases the ability to see any doctor at all. This bill will keep the promises we made in 1965 for Alaskans and allow them to get good health care and finally provide them with assistance in affording their prescription drugs," said the Senator in support of the massive compromise that passed the House last week.
"Medicare should provide seniors with access to vital health care services and the physician of their choice. I believe this bill does those things and will meet the needs of Alaskans," said Murkowski.
The vote is expected early Tuesday morning.
Source of News Release: