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The Medicare Part D — Prescription Drug Plan — is about to come into effect. Get important information from NOW's resources linked below.

The signing of the new Medicare legislation in late 2003 has not removed the program from the political debate. Why? Opinion polls and surveys by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Gallup Organization have found that Medicare recipients are confused about the way system will work, and also skeptical of the new program's benefits. And seniors vote at a much higher rate than the rest of the American population.

Medicare has often been referred to as the "third rail" of American politics — touch it at your peril. It was Franklin Delano Roosevelt who first suggested that the government should play a role in health care for Americans. Every Democratic administration after FDR's tried to introduce some form of assisted health coverage, but it wasn't until the 1965 passage of the Mills Bill that Medicare was created, amending FDR's first safety-net legislation, the Social Security Act of 1935. Today Medicare covers 41 million Americans — 35 million seniors and 6 million non-seniors with disabilities. That means Medicare provides coverage for one-in-seven Americans.

What are the biggest concerns about the new Medicare plan? There are financial concerns: TIME magazine ran a story in December entitled "Can We Afford All This?" and that was before the financial news got even more grim. Fiscal conservatives have been worried anew as the Bush administration upped the ten-year cost by $130 billion, after the plan was signed into law. In addition reports have surfaced that actuary Richard Foster was pressured to keep higher cost estimates out of the pre-passage debate.

Consumer groups are worried about the influence pharmaceutical companies might have had on the crafting of certain elements of the new prescription drug plan — specifically a section of the bill which prohibits the Health and Human Services Agency from negotiating with the pharmaceutical companies for lower prices — as the Veterans Administration currently does for its members. The pharmaceutical industry contributes heavily to the coffers of both parties. However, the Bush administration has recently agreed to plans from five states to pool their purchasing power and negotiate for drug price discounts. (Learn more about campaign finance.)

Additionally, seniors who already have drug plans in their own retirement packages are concerned that these benefits will be dropped now that Medicare offers prescription coverage. Indeed, in April 2003 the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled that employers can reduce or eliminate health benefits for retirees when they become eligible for Medicare at age 65.

Use the sites listed below to find out more about Medicare. Also:

AARP: Health Insurance and Medicare
AARP is a nonprofit membership organization advocating for persons 50 and older. This site offers user-friendly information related to the Medicare system. AARP also offers Answers to Common Questions about the Medicare Legislation.

The Consumers Union
The Consumers Union is the non-profit publisher of CONSUMER REPORTS. The Medicare section of the Web site has fact sheets and a drug cost calculator for the new prescription plan.

The Century Foundation Medicare Watch
This site offers detailed information about Medicare and many related resources and links. It covers the basics of Medicare, news, research and development, a list of experts and more.

Families USA: The Voice for Healthcare Consumers
This national nonprofit, non-partisan organization offers a multitude of resources related to Medicare and health care.

Health Insurance
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provides numerous resources related to Medicare and Medicaid.

History of Medicare
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is a Federal agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Among the resources at this site is a timeline showing how and when the program was established.

Kaiser Family Foundation
The Kaiser Family Foundation provides non-partisan information on national health issues to policymakers, the media, and the general public. The site also provides a wealth of facts and figures and important contact information on a local level through its State Health Facts Online. Read more from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The League of Women Voters
This Web site features a report by the LWVEF and the Kaiser Family Foundation that clarifies how Americans feel about Medicare reform.

The National Bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare
This commission was in put in place in 1998 to find real solutions for the Medicare crisis. Its Web site includes four factual charts and graphs related to the future of Medicare, as well as other resources.

The Official U.S. Government Site for People with Medicare Coverage
This site offers information and assistance to Medicare users. It also contains a user-friendly glossary of terms related to Medicare and health insurance. The site begins to list common prescriptions prices available with a number of the new discount cards at the of April, 2003.

ONLINE NEWSHOUR: The Medicare System
The NEWSHOUR WITH JIM LEHRER provides an extensive history of Medicare and Medicare reform. New elements include a March 23, 2004 roundtable on new projections on the date of Medicare insolvency.

Public Citizen's Congress Watch
This section of this national non-profit public interest organization tracks Congressional proceedings and campaign finance related to health care, prescription drugs and Medicare reform.

The White House
President Bush outlines his goals for Medicare. Listen to the President's radio address or view a multimedia video of President Bush discussing how he will improve the current Medicare system.

Senator John Kerry
The probable Democratic candidate outlines his goals for Medicare.

Estimating the Cost of the Medicare Modernization Act
A March 24, 2004 presentation by the Director of the Congressional Budget Office before the Committee on Ways and Means U.S. House of Representatives

Additional Sources: NEWSDAY, THE NEW YORK TIMES, The Congressional Budget Office.

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