July 10, 2003
By Robert E. Moffit, Ph.D. and Derek Hunter
Both houses of Congress
recently passed separate Medicare "reform" bills designed to
provide prescription drugs to all seniors.
But if the bills are so
good for the rest of us, why are lawmakers desperately trying to
exempt federal retirees, including retired members of
The House recently
passed a bill (H.R. 2631) that will guarantee the prescription-drug
benefits federal retirees get from their private health plans --
inoculating former federal employees against the impact of the
Medicare prescription-drug bill Congress just enacted for the rest
Under the bill, every
federal retiree can rest assured that his drug benefit will
be at least as valuable as the ones that active federal employees
have available to them now -- ones these employees get to choose
from a variety of competing private health plans. According to
The New York Times, federal employees now get drug benefits
worth about 50 percent more than those contained in the Medicare
bills recently passed by the Congress.
Millions of retired
Americans with drug coverage from private employers won't be so
lucky. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that if either
version of the congressional Medicare bills becomes law, roughly
one out of every three private-sector retirees would lose the drug
coverage their former employer now provides and would be dumped
into the new government drug benefit.
Millions of seniors would lose the private
coverage they've known and trusted most of their adult lives and be
forced into a government-run program that offers significantly
poorer benefits with higher out-of-pocket costs.
Rep. Thomas Davis,
R-Va., the sponsor of the House bill, told Congress Daily AM
this special exemption for federal retirees was necessary because
the government must have "the right incentives to attract and
retain the best and the brightest." This reasoning obviously does
not apply to those of us in the private sector. Likewise, Sen.
Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, a sponsor of a similar Senate bill,
recently told the Times that current and future federal
retirees "should not face a situation in which they must rely on
It figures. Lawmakers
finally decide to look at the unpleasant effects of the Medicare
legislation they passed -- then they pass a separate law to exempt
themselves and federal workers. When you are enrolled in a superior
program like the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP),
the last thing you want is to be stuck with an inferior Medicare
Labor unions know the
new Medicare prescription-drug bills are a bad deal for retirees
with good private drug coverage. Now, Congress is desperate to
avoid having the government dump federal and congressional
retirees into the Medicare drug program. That's the canary in the
coal mine for all seniors about to encounter the "unintended
consequences" of the politically irresistible Medicare drug
Curiously, the Senate
Medicare drug bill actually had an amendment added to it by a vote
of 93-3 that would have cut the drug benefit for members of
Congress down to the level provided to seniors on Medicare. Fear
not for your elected officials, however. Roll Call newspaper
reported the very next day that members voted for the amendment
"with the understanding that it would not show up in
the final version of the legislation."
It's still not too late
for Congress to help needy Medicare recipients and fix the badly
broken Medicare program in a way that would not cost so many so
In his State of the
Union address, President Bush called for Medicare to be reformed
along the lines of the system Congress is now scrambling
desperately to preserve for itself: the Federal Employees Health
Benefits Program. Under the FEHBP, federal enrollees can choose
from among a dozen to two dozen competing health plans every year,
all of which have drug coverage integrated into their health plans.
Federal workers and retirees are free to switch plans each year if
their chosen plan doesn't fit their needs.
Serious reforms based
upon this popular program would provide seniors with real options
and a prescription-drug benefit suited to their personal needs.
Members of Congress should go back to the drawing board and draft
real Medicare reform, not just add a costly but inferior Medicare
drug benefit that they don't even want for themselves when they
Distributed nationally on the Knight-Ridder Tribune wire
Both houses of Congress recently passed separate Medicare "reform" bills designed to provide prescription drugs to all seniors. But if the bills are so good for the rest of us, why are lawmakers desperately trying to exempt federal retirees?
Robert E. Moffit, Ph.D.
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