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Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Don't Spare the Flapdoodle

Michael Hiltzik of Golden State Blog watches Medicare Administrator Mark McClellan try to sell "malarkey":

Medicare Clutches at Straws, by Michael Hiltzik, Golden State Blog: It's heartbreaking to watch a government bureaucrat try to defend the indefensible, but I went up to the Whittier Community Center this morning to watch Medicare Administrator Mark McClellan speak up for the Medicare drug program, just the same. As I expected, the experience evoked those sensations of pity and terror of which Aristotle speaks so highly in his Poetics.

As expected, McClellan didn't spare the flapdoodle. Despite mounting evidence that the drug program has been a disaster from the start--and will elicit even more voter anger when enrollees start hitting the dreaded "doughnut hole," about the time when the Congressional election campaigns kick into high gear at Labor Day--he kept claiming that surveys show that enrollees are "overwhelmingly" satisfied with the program. He told an audience of about 60 seniors that under the rules governing the policies of the private health plans administering the program, "all the plans have to cover the medicines you need." This is manifestly untrue, since within broad limits the private health plans running the program for Medicare can compile their own formularies. The "medicines you need" might be on their list, or might not. Or they might be on the lists now, and gone next month.

There was more malarkey of this type, but what about those surveys showing "overwhelming" satisfaction. When I queried McClellan, I learned this is a reference to a couple of studies done by AHIP. Who dat? It's "America's Health Insurance Plans," the Washington trade group for the private insurers who are reaping huge revenues from Medicare Part D.

Very trustworthy.

But what do the surveys actually say? Let's check. A summary is available here on the AHIP website. It indicates that as many as 40% of enrollees aren't saving money under Part D, or aren't sure. As many as 20% may be taking drugs that aren't covered. (So much for the plans covering "the medicines you need.") Up to a third aren't sure the signing up was worth the effort. Only 16% of enrollees were able to sign up online by themselves, making a mockery of Medicare's insistence that its online portal is a great boon to seniors.

My favorite part of the survey is this question:

When you hear politicians criticize the new Medicare prescription drug benefit plan, do you think they are sincerely trying to fix the plan, or just trying to score political points in an election year?

Interestingly, 40% of respondents refused to answer this question, by far the largest ratio of any question in the survey. Which proves that America's seniors recognize horse manure when they're fed it. Of course, the survey didn't ask what the respondents think of criticism of the plan by doctors, pharmacists, health care advocates, nursing home administrators, or any of the other professionals who have condemned it as a fraud and a disgrace. Are they just trying to score political points, too?

    Posted by on Tuesday, March 21, 2006 at 02:28 PM in Economics, Health Care, Politics | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (2)


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