Here's a great post from our friends at the Medicare Rights Center:
A Houston pharmacist opens up this morning to find Mary Bracken, a new patient, waiting. Displaced by Hurricane Katrina, she doesn't know the name of her HMO from Louisiana, she has no way to contact her doctor’s office, and she has never enrolled in Medicaid and has no idea if she is eligible. She knows she is supposed to take four different pills every day, but she doesn’t even know their names. The pharmacist shrugs, sympathetically but helplessly.
The health crisis brought about by Hurricane Katrina is visible to anyone who looks. It has exposed a fragmented health care system that erects financial and bureaucratic obstacles to care, leaving the most vulnerable unprotected. For health care consumers in America, the fragmentation is getting worse, not better. Hidden catastrophes face ill Americans each day, catastrophes that are only noticed in the wake of a natural disaster. The poorer you are, the greater the risk for catastrophe.
But some Americans have been protected from the harsh reality of the health care market bazaar: they have been among the 43 million Americans who have Medicare health coverage. Elderly and disabled Americans have for decades been protected by Medicare, a health insurance program governed by rules that allow near universal enrollment, provide access to a standard benefit, and protect people from financial ruin when they need costly health care. It is a model that has worked for 40 years, yet it is a model consistently rejected by this generation’s political leaders.
This fall, two of those rejections will be felt hard by Americans in need: those displaced by Hurricane Katrina and those striving to find benefit in the 2006 Medicare prescription drug plans. No serious consideration is being given by the White House or Congress to a Disaster Relief Medicare, the most practical way to bring immediate health care to people displaced by
Hurricane Katrina. Congress could offer Medicare eligibility to displaced persons, opening up virtually every health care provider to the men, women and children far from home scattered across the nation. In all states nearly every doctor, hospitals and clinic accepts Medicare. The American health care infrastructure could be opened up tomorrow to care for middle class families far from their insurance networks and poor families quartered in shelters in states from New England to Texas. The political will to make this happen is absent.
And come January not just hurricane victims will be offered sympathetic but helpless shrugs at pharmacies across the nation. That is because Congress and the White House, in enacting the 2006 Medicare prescription drug benefit, threw overboard the simplicity and fairness inherent in Medicare’s structure. The 2006 Medicare drug benefit requires an individual to select among scores of private plans a single plan that may not allow purchases in certain pharmacies, that may not cover needed drugs, that may charge hundreds of dollars in co-payments for needed prescriptions and that may not work out-of-state. Some people are eligible for special financial help, but only if they meet stiff income and asset tests and navigate the application maze. People in great need will be systematically excluded from the drug help they need because the structure of the benefit will be too much to master.
The White House and the Congressional leadership insist that there will be no fix to the drug benefit this year. Next year will be too late to save some people who will be lost. But, here’s a recap, bullet by bullet, of 11 ways to fix the Medicare drug benefit: