Franken v. Coleman re Medicare Part D

In yet another misleading television ad created by the National Republican Senatorial Committee, senate candidate Al Franken (D-MN) is being portrayed as an “angry partisan” who would deny prescription drug coverage to seniors if he could. The ad implies that incumbent Norm Coleman (R) cares more about prescription drug coverage for seniors than Franken does. But where do the candidates really stand on the issue of Medicare Part D?

Franken has said he would have voted against the measure which allowed for Medicare Part D, apparently because he is in favor of prescription drug coverage and affordable health care for seniors. The Pioneer Press article used in the NRSC’s ad reads:

“Unlike Coleman, Franken said he would have voted against the measure that created Medicare Part D, which provided seniors prescription drug coverage, and the 2005 bankruptcy reform bill. Both, Franken said, were written by industry lobbyists…”

What the NRSC fails to mention is that under Medicare Part D, once total drug spending hits $2,250, coverage ends and seniors must pay for their medicine themselves. Their benefits resume only after they have spent $5,100 on prescription drugs.

According to a new study by the Kaiser Family Foundation:

“About 26 percent of Part D enrollees who filled prescriptions in 2007 but did not receive low-income subsidies reached the coverage gap, according to research conducted by Georgetown University, the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, and the Kaiser Family Foundation. Most (22 percent) remained in the gap for the rest of the year and saw their average out-of-pocket costs nearly double, from $104 to $196 monthly. Kaiser estimates that 3.4 million beneficiaries reached the coverage gap and faced the full cost of their prescriptions in 2007.

Only 4 percent of part D enrollees who filled prescriptions ultimately received catastrophic coverage. Most of these seniors paid the full cost of their medications for an average of just over four months and received catastrophic coverage for less than one month.” [emphasis, mine]

Medicare Part D not only throws seniors into a “doughnut hole” where the cost of prescriptions seriously impacts the household budget, but the expense often prohibits seniors from having prescriptions filled. The Kaiser study found:

“patients changing their use of prescription drugs when they are required to pay the full cost of medications in the coverage gap. Across eight classes of drugs examined, used to treat a variety of relatively common chronic conditions, 15 percent of Part D enrollees who reached the gap stopped their drug therapy for that condition, five percent switched to another medication in the class, and one percent reduced the number of drugs they were taking in the class.”

The NRSC left out more from the Pioneer Press, including this:

“When the Medicare prescription drug program was created in 2003, the legislation allowed private insurers to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies over prices but didn’t allow the federal government to negotiate for the entire group of eligible seniors.

If Medicare were able to get the negotiated prices Medicaid secured in 2006 and 2007, Medicare insurers would have saved $3.7 billion on the top 100 prescribed drugs, according to a recent report from the U.S. House oversight committee.”     (Courtesy: MNPublius)

In July of this year, at a news conference held in a St. Paul pharmacy, Franken “urged the federal government to negotiate lower prescription prices for seniors and to ban advertising that he says leads to unnecessary spending on prescription drugs.” (Courtesy: Pat Doyle, Star Tribune)

The abject failures of Medicare Part D not only prove the need for reform and the fact that the legislation was a failure, but uphold Franken’s stated position as one that supports comprehensive prescription drug coverage for seniors.

Where does Norm Coleman stand on Medicare Part D? He voted for it.

While the legislation has brought financial hardship to thousands of seniors in need of prescription, it has been a win for pharmaceuticals. Dr. Timothy Anderson, a pharmaceutical analyst with the Prudential Equity Group, estimated that under Medicare Part D, revenue to Glaxo from sale of the drug Lamcital would increase by $298 million in 2007, AstraZeneca’s sales of Seroquel would increase by $521 million, and Plavix revenue would increase by $169 million (Source: Milt Freudenheim, New York Times, July 18, 2006).

Coincidentally, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, as of July 28, 2008, Coleman had received contributions totalling $206,317 from the pharmaceutical / health products industry during the current election cycle. Senator Coleman did go on record as voting for a measure that would limit debate and bring to the floor a bill that would have allowed Medicare to negotiate drug prices in 2007. However, the measure was never expected to pass, failing by a 55/42 vote.

With regard to health care in general, some of Coleman’s other votes prove more telling. In 2004, Coleman voted against an amendment to increase spending by $60 billion over five years to provide health coverage to people without insurance. (The spending would have been be offset by revenue increases.) In 2005, he voted in favor of a budget resolution that cut funding for Medicaid by $10 billion.

Al Franken’s official position on the issue of health care starts with the call to move to universal health care as soon as possible, and includes specific measures that address the quality and cost of care. Norm Coleman supports quality, affordable health care controlled by the private sector, including access to Associated Health Plans and Health Savings Accounts.


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