Making Coverage Affordable For All

Today more than 60 percent of Americans on Medicare have inadequate prescription-drug coverage. Some get prescription drugs from HMOs that are increasing premiums, lowering benefits and often abandoning Medicare altogether. Some have private insurance or "Medigap" plans that charge seniors unaffordable premiums for minimal coverage. And others--13 million--have no prescription-drug cover-age at all.

I have met seniors across the country who every day make the unthinkable choice between the medications they need and other basic needs like food and rent. Some cut their prescriptions in half, skimping on medications because they cannot cover the costs. In New Hampshire I met a woman, Florence Seitz, who lays her pills out on the kitchen table each night, deciding which ones she can afford to take. This is an unacceptable way to honor a generation that saw America through the Great Depression and World War II.

I have proposed a plan that ensures all seniors and people with disabilities on Medicare have access to an affordable prescription-drug benefit. My plan covers half the costs of medications up to $5,000 each year. It limits out-of-pocket prescription costs to $4,000 a year, and covers all costs for low-income seniors.

My opponent has proposed a prescription-drug benefit that relies on private insurers and HMOs to provide the coverage. For the first four years, it would use state block grants that exclude middle-class seniors, so those earning more than $15,000 a year get no real help. After four years his plan switches to a private-insurance model and could force many Medicare beneficiaries into HMOs. Even after a decade about half of all those who lack coverage today could still be without it.

We have a historic opportunity to use today's prosperity to continue to balance the budget, pay down our national debt and invest in crucial priorities like adding an affordable prescription-drug benefit to Medicare. For 35 years Medicare has been more than a program. It is a compact between generations and a way to honor America's seniors and people with disabilities. We must strengthen Medicare and make sure it covers prescriptions to keep our seniors strong, instead of offering them false hope.