Saul Friedman argues
in today's Newsday
("GRAY MATTERS: Ideology and Meanness in Medicare Debate") that "as it now stands, any legislation that is likely to emerge based on the bills passed in June by the House and Senate would be hopelessly inadequate, too costly and too complicated for most Medicare beneficiaries. I doubt that the members of Congress who are writing it could explain it to their aging parents. More important, the legislation is a kind of pact with the devil, for the price of a paltry drug benefit is the eventual privatization and death of Medicare. In addition, the legislation would not only encourage private insurance companies to sell prescription drug coverage, the House version would help beneficiaries pay the premiums to lure them to sign up for a better deal with private insurance and desert Medicare. The intended result is the demise of Medicare, which leaves health care for the nation's elderly in the hands of dozens of private insurance and drug companies." Friedman continues:
While Medicare's opponents may take cover in ideology in the debate over these larger issues, ideology can't explain the myriad outrages buried in the 800 pages of the legislation that would cost the taxpayers unnecessary billions and pick the pockets of the sickest and oldest among us.
One extraordinary example is a provision prohibiting the government from saving money by using its buying power to negotiate volume discounts with drug companies to get the best prices on drugs for beneficiaries. Indeed, the legislation would exempt drug companies from the cost controls that govern every other Medicare provider - doctors, hospitals and laboratories.
There's more to read -- and to fume over -- in Friedman's excellent review of all that's wrong with what's going on in the Conference Committee that is trying to harmonize the House and Senate bills. I agree with Friedman: If the price tag for a prescription drug benefit we can't afford includes the ruination of the Medicare program, let's hope the conferees come up empty-handed.