Carson City seniors don't expect much help from the new drug benefit plan recently approved by Congress.
"I think it's worthless," said 68-year-old Betty Peterson on Sunday. She said the plan will help her only if her health deteriorates.
The plan, approved by the Senate by a vote of 54 to 44 on Tuesday, was drafted by Republicans and endorsed by the senior-advocacy group AARP. Peterson, an AARP member, can't understand why.
"We've been put off for so long I guess they just had to go with something," she lamented.
Under the plan, which would be voluntary, all Medicare beneficiaries would have to pay the first $250 in drug costs each year. Of the next $2,000, Medicare would cover $1,500. The beneficiary would then be responsible for all of the next $2,850. That means a senior would have to pay $3,600 of the first $5,100 in drug costs, or about 70 percent. Medicare would pay 95 percent of drug costs after that.
"I'd probably need to get a lawyer to figure the damn thing out," said Richard Russell, 68. He was in the hospital Friday and Saturday with what he suspects is the flu.
"I paid $88 for seven pills," he said. "It was supposed to be an antibiotic. I think it's a racket."
He doesn't have much hope for the new plan, which would go into effect in 2006.
"I don't trust the government any farther than I can throw them."
His neighbor 71-year-old Eddie Kolar agreed.
"I think it's a big scam," he said Sunday as he sat on the bed in his apartment with oxygen tubes running to his nose.
"You know it's a scam because they charge one price for the drugs in Mexico and a higher
price here. They sell to where the market is."
The retired welder takes a half dozen prescription drugs to help his respiratory system.
"Between all the different chemicals we used in welding and the asbestos, plus smoking, it makes quite a cocktail," he said.
Kolar said he had just picked up the form required to cancel Medicare coverage because his drug costs are covered by the Veterans Administration. He pays a flat fee of $7 per month for each prescription.
He said if he had to rely on Medicare, he'd "be dead, probably."
Kolar said the plan will only help those seniors at the extremes - people who are very sick or very poor.
"But people in the middle like me, we don't qualify for a lot of it."
He said he knows people who are so desperate they just go the hospital emergency room for treatment, knowing they won't be able to pay. Others find their own way to pay for prescription drugs by to going to Mexico or Canada.
"I don't have access to Canadian medicine, but if I did, I would," said Peterson. She takes prescription drugs for her blood pressure, pain in her back and other ailments.
"And I'm doing better than a lot of 68-year-olds."
Peterson said the Republicans drafted the plan to secure votes during next year's presidential election.
"I think (President) Bush and his buddies think they're going to get votes because of this, but I don't think they will," she said.
Now that it's been approved by the Senate, the plan will go to Bush for approval.Annual spending on the new benefit would start at $26 billion in 2006, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Contact Karl Horeis at email@example.com or 881-1219.