Friday, April 28, 2006

GUEST POST -- Less Than Three Weeks To Take Advantage Of Part D Savings

Posted by Craig Westover | 8:34 PM |  

By Richard Dolinar, M.D.

If you're a Minnesota senior and you've successfully filed your taxes
by last week's deadline, take a breather. But don't rest for too long
if you're one of the many who hasn't yet enrolled in the new drug
benefit under Medicare, because you now have only one month left to do so.

While over 30 million seniors have already enrolled, many still haven't
taken advantage of reducing their monthly prescription drug costs under
this new benefit. Those who miss the May 15th deadline will have to
wait until November before the next enrollment begins. And then their
premiums will be 6 percent higher. In Minnesota, the average senior can
reduce his drug premium anywhere from 35% to 61%.

Medicare Part D is different from traditional government programs, like
Medicare Part B or the Veterans Affairs drug benefit. That's because
unlike those other programs, Part D takes advantage of competition
between private companies. These companies compete for the business of
seniors - and the result is more drug-plan choices for lower prices.

In fact, Medicare Part D is actually administered by private companies,
not the federal government. As these companies jockey against each
other like Coke and Pepsi to provide you with the best plans Medicare Part
D has achieved quality and savings no one thought possible. That's the
power of competition in a free market.

In Minnesota, there are a full 41 plans currently available, with
premiums starting as low as $ 1.89. This is far cheaper than anyone

Unfortunately, many policymakers in Washington DC can't stand the idea
of giving up any control over their taxpayer cookie jar. So they want
to put the federal government in charge of drug pricing - which would
effectively put an end to the private-sector competition and instead
create a new system where the federal government dictates drug prices.

They should reconsider. I've witnessed first hand the harsh impact
price controls have had on doctors and hospitals. Let me give you just one

Hospitals have been under price controls for many years. Because of
this, the monies available to pay nurses has been limited. The result? A
severe nursing shortage across the entire United States. The
consequences of this shortage are difficult to overstate. After all, it's the
nurses who actually treat patients. Without enough nurses, hospital care
suffers across the board.

Modeling the new Medicare drug benefit on the VA system - or any other
price-control model - would invariably result in a similar shortage of

Those who advocate price-controls also don't seem to understand how the
free market works. Market competition protects consumers far better
than government - with its $400 hammers and $600 toilet seats - ever

Decreasing prices by federal law doesn't make costs go away. It simply
decreases availability and results in shortages. These shortages are
manifested many ways in healthcare. They include delay in getting care,
prolonged suffering and in some cases even death.

For example, in Canada, approval of AIDS drugs take twice as long as in
the United States. Why? Because in Canada's price-controlled system,
the government cuts costs by not approving cutting-edge drugs. Who
suffers? The patient, that's who. Who dies? The patient...but unfortunately
not the legislation, which contributed to his early demise.

My colleagues and I often meet patients who have come from Canada
because they cannot access the drugs or medical services they need to treat
their conditions. That's the reality of price controls.

If such price controls are enacted, Medicare Part D would metastasize
into a cancer that would lead directly to drug rationing, stifled
research and stalled innovation. We would all suffer.

So instead of clamoring for more government control over the drug
benefit, policymakers should give the free market a chance to work. Then
they could devote their energies to encouraging seniors - like the 701,122
who are eligible in Minnesota - to sign up for the Part D plan.

With only [20 DAYS] left to enroll, the clock is ticking.

Richard Dolinar, M.D. is a practicing endocrinologist in Phoenix and is
a senior fellow at The Heartland Institute (