Your March 6 editorial "Don't Forget the Patients" says that President Bush "asked Congress to offer a prescription-drug benefit only to seniors willing to leave traditional Medicare and enroll in health maintenance organizations." In fact, seniors would have a broad range of choices for obtaining prescription drug coverage -- and would not be forced to join HMOs.
The president wants Medicare to give all seniors prescription drug coverage with access to the newest medications, without government picking drugs and limiting choices. The president wants Medicare to offer better benefits to help prevent disease, such as free screenings for cancer, diabetes and osteoporosis. And he wants to protect seniors from high costs associated with lengthy treatment.
Under the president's framework, seniors could choose to keep their current fee-for-service Medicare program and gain meaningful discounts on drugs and new protection from high out-of-pocket drug costs. They also could choose to remain in their existing Medicare managed-care plans that offer prescription drug coverage. Or they could choose a new, enhanced Medicare that would provide the same kinds of choices and benefits that members of Congress already enjoy -- including comprehensive drug coverage, free preventive care and protection against high out-of-pocket costs.
The bottom line is that the president's plan gives seniors more choices and better benefits -- including meaningful prescription drug coverage. And he backs his plan up with $400 billion in new money for Medicare to make it happen.
Tommy G. Thompson
Secretary of Health
and Human Services