The proposed law that would add a prescription drug benefit to Medicare is more confusing than promising, an audience of about 300 senior citizens told U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) [Rep. John Lewis (D-GA)] on Saturday.
What was clear at the gathering in College Park was that the issue will be a hot one in next year's campaigns.
One featured speaker, Dr. Adam Atherly, of the Emory University School of Public Health, acknowledged that there is a complicated tangle of co-payments and deductibles in both the Democratic and Republican versions of the proposed legislation.
"If you want to understand Medicare, you almost have to learn another language," he said.
Currently, the measures have been referred to a congressional conference committee, and a final bill is expected to be sent to President Bush by the end of the year. Both parties promised a drug prescription benefit during the 2000 presidential campaign, but their legislative proposals differ widely in how the benefit would be implemented.
Ruth Nabbre, a member of the audience and a College Park resident, chided the experts, saying, "If some of you are still confused, can you imagine what that means to us?"
Lewis tried to simplify the situation by saying the Republican-backed bill would be more costly to most senior citizens. He said the Republican proposal to make insurance for drug costs available through private companies is dangerous, since some private companies may decide not to offer such policies.
Lewis' staff handed out information saying the Republican plan would be more expensive for individuals across the board than the one he and most Democrats support. Part of the reason for that, he said, is President Bush's tax cut.
"If we hadn't had that big tax break, those dollars could have been used for prescription drugs," he said. Lewis said about 100 members of Congress are holding town meetings such as his this weekend, and they intend to use the public input to help shape the final form of the bill.
Prescription-drug costs relief can't come too soon for audience member Louvenia Reid, 57, who served 10 years in the Army and worked another 10 years for the federal government.
Reid takes 11 prescribed medications for her multiple chronic illnesses, she said. Some months, she said, she can't even afford the co-payments, so deductions are taken from her medical retirement benefits.
"I just can't believe I don't have enough money to live on," she said. "Sometimes, I only eat peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches."
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution