Medicare Changes Could Mean Fewer Options, Higher Prices |

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A popular talking point for Democrats is their desire to “fix” Medicare by imposing price controls on prescription drugs for American seniors. Of course they don’t say that -- they say they want the federal government to “negotiate” with pharmaceutical companies. Such a scheme would take a wrecking ball to a popular program that has cut drug costs for consumers through competition, with serious consequences for American seniors and taxpayers alike.

While supporters of this “fix” have never put forward an actual plan, they often suggest they’d like to duplicate the process used by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for its network of government-run hospitals.

How would it work? Basically, Washington bureaucrats would draw up a select list of government-approved prescription drugs. Medicare would then use its massive buying power to purchase these select drugs in bulk. What if you need a drug that isn’t on the list? Sorry, you’re out of luck. What if you work for a company that specializes in a particular drug that doesn’t make the government list? Sorry, you’re out of luck too.

The command-and-control government-run drug program envisioned by leading Democrats is exactly the opposite of the free-market based Medicare Part D. There are currently more than 4,300 prescription drugs available to seniors through Medicare drug plans. Competition between plan providers has expanded the number of options and kept prices down -- lower than anyone expected.

How does the VA plan stack up? How many drugs does it offer? 1,330. That’s less than one- third of what’s available through Medicare Part D.

But some Democrats don’t want to stop there. According to the Washington Times, Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA), soon-to-be Chairman of the Ways & Means Health Subcommittee, not only wants to limit the number of prescription drugs available to seniors, he wants to limit the number of plans seniors can choose from too:

    “Stark said he also wanted to reduce the number of private plans available to seniors. There are now 40 or more plans operating in many markets; Stark would like to reduce that to 15 or 20.”
A recent Washington Post poll showed two-thirds of voters oppose “allowing the government to negotiate prescription drug prices for the Medicare program” when they realize this would mean only being able to choose from a list of government-approved drugs. And nearly 80 percent of seniors 65 and older oppose government price controls after they hear about its effects.

Similarly, the Wall Street Journal found 80 percent of seniors enrolled in Part D are saving money and are happy with their current Medicare plan:

    “Now that many seniors are saving money on drugs, instead of struggling to pick a plan, polls have turned favorable. A survey of 3,400 beneficiaries by J.D. Power & Associates found 45% "delighted" with the program, rating their Medicare drug plans 10 on a 10-point scale; another 35% rated them an 8 or 9.”
The marketplace is working for America’s seniors and taxpayers. USA Today has called on Democrats to “put the brakes” on their price control scheme for that very reason, noting that “more than one-third of retired veterans… enroll in Medicare drug plans” -- in part because the VA plan offers far fewer options.

There is something else to consider here: the more responsibility we give government for handling our health care, the more politicians and bureaucrats can tell us what we can and can not do. Whether it is allowing the government to choose which prescription drugs are available to us, or government telling us we can no longer consume trans fats, there is no shortage of politicians and activists who want to tell the rest of us how to live our lives.

Remember, Medicare Part D involves dozens of insurance companies negotiating with dozens of pharmaceutical companies to get the best prices. This enables plan providers to offer seniors the best, most individually tailored plans possible. The result has been more options, lower drug prices, and lower costs to taxpayers.

Any Medicare reforms considered by Congress should be rooted in these free market principles that empower consumers with less costly, higher quality health care. America’s seniors deserve the best health care possible -- they won’t get it if Washington is calling the shots.