Medicare Changes: Background Report
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RAY SUAREZ: The president’s traveling entourage this morning stretched almost the entire distance from the White House to Washington’s Constitution Hall, three blocks away. And the hall was packed, too, with public officials ready to watch the most significant change in the 38-year history of Medicare.
SPOKESMAN: The president of the United States. ( Cheers and applause )
RAY SUAREZ: President Bush was welcomed on stage by selected representatives of several senior citizens and health care groups and by two dozen or so members of Congress.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: This legislation is the achievement of members in both political parties. And this legislation is a victory for all of America’s seniors. ( Applause )
RAY SUAREZ: Although only two congressional Democrats joined the delegation on stage, the Medicare bill did receive bipartisan support in Congress. But there also was almost as much bipartisan opposition. The legislation slipped through both the House and the Senate last month with only a handful of votes to spare.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: With the Medicare Act of 2003, our government is finally bringing prescription drug coverage to the seniors of America. With this law, we’re giving older Americans better choices and more control over their health care so they can receive the modern medical care they deserve. (Applause )
RAY SUAREZ: The new drug benefit in the bill is voluntary and begins in 2006. It would cover 75 percent of annual drug costs up to $2,250. The beneficiary would pay all drug costs between $2,250 and $5,100. But above that level, 95 percent of drug costs would be covered. Seniors initially would pay $420 a year in premiums for the drug benefit, plus a $250 deductible. Nearly all those costs would be waived for beneficiaries with incomes under $12,100 and assets of no more than $6,000.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: It’s a good thing that Medicare pays when seniors get sick. Now you see we’re taking this a step further. Medicare will pay for the prescription drugs so that fewer seniors will get sick in the first place. ( Applause )
RAY SUAREZ: The House and Senate leaders who maneuvered the Medicare bill through Congress crowded behind President Bush as he signed the new legislation into law. ( Applause ) Hours later, a dozen of the Democrats who tried to defeat the Medicare bill staged a rally of their own, also packing the room with senior citizens. Among their complaints is that a provision in the new bill, which will allow private plans to compete with Medicare, is the beginning of a Republican attempt to dismantle the system. Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy:
SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY: If we had had a successful private system, we’d never need Medicare. Every senior understands that. Everyone understands that.
RAY SUAREZ: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi:
REP. NANCY PELOSI: America’s seniors deserve a better bill. This Republican hope is a bitter pill. You deserve a defined prescription drug benefit under Medicare. We won’t stop fighting until you get it. Thank you all very much for being here. ( Applause )
RAY SUAREZ: Democrats say they’ll push to repeal the Medicare provisions signed into law today when Congress convenes for the 2004 session.