Thursday, October 06, 2005

Ford Urges Federal Government To Send Accurate Drug Benefit Information To Seniors

Congressman Harold Ford today announced he is pushing the Bush Administration to correct an error in the Medicare prescription drug handbook that could result in premium payments for many seniors. The handbook, which was mailed to 38 million senior households, incorrectly informs seniors that they can sign up for any prescription drug plan at no extra charge, when in fact, many of the plans will result in premium payments for seniors on fixed incomes.

Instead of mailing a corrected version to Medicare beneficiaries, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is relying on insurance companies, its web site and a 1-800 number to inform seniors of the error. In a letter to Dr. Mark McClellan, the top federal official administering the Medicare drug benefit, Ford is urging CMS to send out a new mailing to all Medicare beneficiaries. In addition, he is sending a letter to Memphis senior centers to make sure they notify residents of the error.

The text of the letter sent to Dr. McClellan is as follows:

October 6, 2005

The Honorable Mark McClellan, MD, PhD
Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services
200 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, D.C. 20201

Dear Dr. McClellan:

I am writing to request that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) revise the "Medicare & You" handbook immediately to correct an error regarding Medicare's new prescription drug plan and distribute revised versions of the handbook to all Medicare beneficiaries immediately.

As you know, the Medicare handbook that the federal government is sending to 38 million households this week contains an error that may lead fixed-income beneficiaries to sign up for prescription drug plans that they cannot afford.

The handbook incorrectly states that seniors earning less than $14,355 a year for individuals, or less than $19,245 for couples, can sign up for any of the prescription drug plans in their area at no extra charge. That information is wrong. These seniors can avoid extra charges only if they sign up with plans that charge premiums that are equal to or below the state average. In fact, only about 40 percent of the plans are available to fixed-income seniors at no monthly premium.

In my home state of Tennessee, there are 41 Medicare-approved prescription drug plans, and the average monthly premium is $40.05. Twenty-two of those plans have monthly premiums at or less than $40.05. Unbeknownst to them, fixed-income seniors in Tennessee who rely on CMS' error and select plans with premiums higher than $40.05 will be forced to pay the difference between the premium charged by the plan they select and the average premium price.

Your agency has acknowledged the error, which could impact up to 14 million people nationwide, but a memo circulated by CMS to members of Congress yesterday indicated that CMS will not mail a corrected version of the handbook to beneficiaries. Instead, CMS will rely on insurance companies to inform fixed-income beneficiaries how to sign up for qualified plans. In addition, the memo indicated that seniors could access correct information on the prescription drug plans on the Medicare website and over the phone.

I am deeply concerned that CMS is not adequately informing seniors about the prescription drug plan, which your own agency characterizes as the most significant legislative change in Medicare's history. Seniors across my state and the nation are grappling with a complicated and complex choice regarding their prescription drug coverage. Yet CMS is not adequately informing them about their options.

Rather than distributing incorrect or incomplete information to seniors, CMS should provide all relevant information about the program to seniors in one easy to read format. It should not force seniors to consult a website for corrected information, especially since many seniors do not have access to a website. And CMS should certainly not abdicate its responsibility to accurately inform Medicare beneficiaries to drug companies. That is absolutely unacceptable.

Once again, I urge you to distribute a revised version of the Medicare handbook to beneficiaries immediately, with a cover letter specifically informing seniors of the correction. Evaluating the choices before them is complicated enough. CMS should not compound matters by providing our seniors with incorrect information.

I thank you in advance for your consideration.


Harold Ford, Jr.

More: This is just another example of Harold Ford Jr's strong commitment to standing up for seniors.

As he did in 2003 when he voted against the Republican Medicare bill, Congressman Ford has once again demonstrated that he is dedicated to protecting Medicare and fighting for America's seniors.