Stabenow in Cass County: Medicare ‘unraveling’

Published 12:05 am Wednesday, December 17, 2003

By By JOHN EBY / Niles Daily Star
CASSOPOLIS -- The Medicare bill President Bush signed into law is "costly, complex and caters to special interests," even according to the non-partisan League of Women Voters of Cass and Berrien counties.
U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., went further Tuesday evening, calling the legislation supported by U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, "insidious" in the way it retreats from its heritage, places profit motives of insurance companies before people and "begins to unravel the promise of Medicare."
Considering that Medicare itself was created in a year in 1965 as a compromise against universal health coverage, the legislation's first "red flag" that "it's not a great deal" is that it won't be fully implemented until 2006, she said at the Edward Lowe Center for the Council on Aging.
Stabenow favors building on Medicare -- not dismantling it, divvying people into smaller groups and privatizing so that the powerful pharmaceutical lobby can add customers while maintaining prices which otherwise might have been discounted.
Stabenow, who also visited Adrian, Coldwater and Three Rivers during a swing through southern Michigan, said as a senator she is outnumbered 6:1 by "drug company lobbyists looking out for their industry. I could have lunch with them every day but Sunday. Everybody else is paying the price for that. While we want the life-saving drugs and we're proud of the research that's done -- there's research done in Michigan -- we have to be making decisions in the best interests of people, which was not done in this particular bill."
A chief concern of Stabenow's is that the legislation disregarded the medical adage to "do no harm. We shouldn't hurt people who currently have insurance trying to help other people. About 2.7 million people -- one in four retirees -- will lose their private insurance to the disincentives in this bill. That's about 143,000 people in Michigan. My mom is a retired nurse who has coverage right now" which could be lost.
Stabenow said 6.4 million low-income seniors will pay more or experience less access to their drugs. That's about 183,000 people in Michigan.
Prescription drug prices will stay high, too.
As for how the legislation favors HMOs and private insurance, in 2006 anyone eligible for Medicare will receive paperwork.
If there is one private insurance company writing prescription drug policy in a region and at least one HMO, "You'd have to get your prescription drug coverage through them. You would not have the choice of just going through Medicare," she said. "You'd have to pick between a private insurance plan and an HMO. Medicare would cover the benefit, but you would have to choose. Now if there weren't two plans, then you would be able to go through traditional Medicare for prescription drugs. However, the point at which there were two plans, you would be dropped from Medicare and you'd have to pick one of the two plans. And somewhere down the road, if there aren't two plans, you get to have Medicare. Here's it's hard to say. Maybe there will never be two private plans and you'll always get to choose Medicare. We don't know.
In 2010, Stabenow said, "They're going to pick some regions of the country where they go even further and do demonstration plans covering several millions of people. They're going to take all of Medicare -- not just prescription drugs -- and change it so Medicare is competing with private health insurance plans and HMOs. They're giving $12 billion to the insurance companies and HMOs so they can compete better with Medicare, which is cheaper.
She got into politics at 24 as an Ingham County commissioner championing a nursing home targeted for closing.
Bills to provide universal health care were introduced in 1960 and in 1962, but lacked support.