Nelson introduces bill to protect Medicare’s most vulnerable
March 16, 2006
WASHINGTON, D.C. – While the new Medicare prescription drug plan has been the object of much criticism, one of the program’s greatest flaws has received almost no attention at all. U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson says its time to heighten the public’s awareness that some of the nation’s most vulnerable citizens have had their prescription drug coverage cut off under the new Medicare program.
Nelson, along with a bipartisan group of colleagues that includes Sens. Gordon Smith (R-OR), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) and Hillary Clinton (D-NY) filed legislation this week to waive the co-payments of low-income residents of assisted-living facilities.
Previously covered by Medicaid, low-income patients in assisted-living facilities are being automatically enrolled in Medicare’s new program, and they now must shoulder the costs of co-payments for the first time. These are people with little or no income who often suffer from debilitating mental illnesses and developmental and physical disabilities.
The Medicare prescription drug program exempts the lowest income nursing home residents from all prescription drug co-payments, but fails to include those in assisted living facilities. As a result, many are struggling to afford their medications – and some are doing without. Any interruption in stabilizing medications often leads to relapses and costly hospital stays. Nelson’s bill would cancel co-payments for this group of beneficiaries.
“Some of our most vulnerable citizens are losing coverage under the Medicare prescription drug plan, and they’re going to end up in the hospital if we don’t do something soon.” Nelson said. “We have to change this program to make sure these people get their medications.”
Meantime, Nelson says he’s trying to close other coverage gaps in the Medicare prescription drug program and is pushing to extend enrollment until the end of 2006.