|Dr. Jonathan V. Wright, |
Life Extension Foundation
Scientific Advisory Board Member
It would almost be entertaining to watch the Medicare prescription drug fiasco—if it did not affect millions of people so negatively. First, the act, officially known as the Medicare Prescription Drug Improvement and Modernization Act of 2003, is passed under duress. It barely makes it through the House, and it only escapes the Senate under the threat of filibuster. Lawmakers on both sides of the fence have issues with it. While it is nice to see our lawmakers can occasionally unite in their assessment of a stinker, the resounding dislike for the bill still did not keep it from being passed. Then, early this year, tales of withheld budget and actuarial information started to surface. A number-cruncher named Richard Foster gets caught up in a maelstrom of allegations. It seems that lawmakers were told the bill would cost $400 billion; Foster put it at closer to $551 billion—but he was not allowed to tell anyone.
Months after the bill was passed, a mysterious fax surfaces that reveals Foster's figures (I am telling you, this stuff is right out of All the President's Men). When questioned, Foster claims his boss threatened to fire him if he released those numbers to lawmakers. Earlier this month, a relatively quick and painless inquiry into the ethics of this whole situation reveals that, yes, the boss gagged the employee, but, no, he will not be prosecuted any time soon due to some technicality in the law. In fact, none of the employees involved even had to appear to testify on the matter.
The boss in question, Thomas A. Scully, is now a private consultant, and apparently had too busy of a travel schedule to even respond to inquiries into the matter for 10 days. Quietly enough, the President revised the estimated cost of the overhaul to $534 billion. I wish I could say it gets better, but it does not. In fact, it gets worse. Another inquiry was launched into $20 million that went into ads and marketing materials for the new program. Finally, an element of the new program was rolled out last month: Medicare drug-discount cards. By all accounts to date, these are so confusing that they border on being completely useless.
In a Kaiser Health Poll Report Survey done last month, six in 10 seniors did not even know about the discount card or did not think they were eligible. This mess is so wide and so deep, it is hard to know where to start. The saddest part is that, once again, Medicare recipients—and, of course, taxpayers—will be the ones to pay the price for such shenanigans. If there is any consolation here, it may be that we are in an election year—one of the few times that lawmakers might actually listen to us.
Make your voice heard. Contact your congressman, join an advocacy or watchdog group that is active on this issue, and pay attention to the press. When these kinds of dramas can get swept under the rug so easily, despite all the red flags flying all along the way, I am afraid we are in deep, deep trouble. And if you would like to learn more about the bill or the discount drug program, go to: www.medicare.gov or call 1-800-MEDICARE. Please let us know your experiences with Medicare under the new plan as they roll it out. We would like to know how this legislation is affecting our readers, for better or worse.*
Life Extension's comments: It is interesting that executives from dozens of corporations are facing possible life terms in prison for accounting fraud, whereas the $151 billion accounting fraud perpetrated by government employees, and the accompanying perjury committed before Congress, is not even considered a crime. This $151 billion cover-up may exceed the aggregate amount of dollars recently pillaged from public companies.