Monday, May 23, 2005

The Magic of Medicare

For two years, health policy experts have been warning that Medicare beneficiaries may be confused by complexities of the new prescription drug benefit. Now it turns out that Medicare officials were also confused, not just about the drug benefit but also about other options.

The Bush administration is revising a preliminary draft of the 2006 Medicare handbook - the main tool for educating beneficiaries - after discovering that many statements in the document were inaccurate, misleading or unclear, even to people who have worked on the program for decades. Members of Congress, insurance companies, advocates for beneficiaries and state insurance regulators all told the Bush administration that the new handbook was flawed.

For example, in describing the drug benefit, the handbook says,"After you meet the deductible, you pay part of the cost of covered prescription drugs, and the plan pays part." The handbook does not mention that beneficiaries face a gap in coverage. After the beneficiary pays a $250 deductible, Medicare pays three-fourths of the next $2,000 in drug costs. But then the beneficiary is normally responsible for all of the next $2,850, and Medicare pays nothing. Beyond that, Medicare pays about 95 percent of drug costs. --Medicare Will Revise Guide to New Benefits for 2006 By ROBERT PEAR

So far, the mumbo-jumbo of the Medicare program as translated by Mr. Pear is fairly clear. But toward the last third of his article it is pretty unclear what the program represents, what options there are in private coverage—in short, the 106 page handbook that Pear says is being revised won’t cut through this bureaucratic grease any better than the present version does now, mistakes and all.

What is clear, is the magic of Bush the prestidigitator and his assistants. If you can’t fix a broken system like the fractured American health care morass, just don’t deal with it as a priority, and redirect your audience, as would a true professional magician, to the other program that just needs some minor tweaks to temporarily fix—Social Security. You make the real problems seem to disappear before the audience’s eyes. Everyone applauds, and you haven’t really done anything out of the ordinary. In fact, if the audience knew what you were really doing, they’d be disappointed and probably want their money back.

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