Congress Urged to Re-Think Medicare Drug Plan

By Susan Jones | July 7, 2008 | 8:21 PM EDT

( - A new government report on Medicare's huge liabilities and looming bankruptcy are just two more reasons why Congress should consider revising the recently passed prescription drug law, says a taxpayer watchdog group.

The National Taxpayers Union (NTU) - along with dozens of citizen groups and think tanks -- is part of the Coalition Against Higher Medicare Drug Costs, a group that seeks "taxpayer friendly alternatives" to the expensive prescription-drug entitlement program.

The Medicare prescription drug plan was passed in 2003, but has not yet taken effect. That gives Congress an opportunity to revise the bill -- with an emphasis on real reform, the NTU said.

"Medicare's own Trustees have confirmed what taxpayer advocates warned about all along," said NTU President John Berthoud.

In a report issued on Tuesday, those trustees said Medicare will run out of money by 2019 if changes aren't made to the program. Provisions of the law "raise serious doubt about the sustainability of Medicare under current financing arrangements," the trustees said.

According to NTU's Berthoud, "A 35 percent increase in the drug plan's ten-year cost estimate; mounting evidence that employers will dump seniors' private coverage, and now [the] trustees' report -- all add up to an economic doomsday scenario that thoughtful policymakers can't ignore any longer."

Berthoud noted that full federal prescription drug coverage won't kick in until 2006, meaning that "lawmakers have only a limited amount of time to prevent what could be the biggest fiscal disaster in U.S. history."

Berthoud noted that 15 years ago, Congress pulled America back from the "fiscal abyss" when it repealed the flawed Catastrophic Care law before it could exact a terrible toll on seniors and taxpayers.

"Policymakers should draw upon that historical lesson to protect America from the $8-trillion mistake of a federal prescription drug entitlement," he added.

NTU advocates Medicare reform that will empower consumers, reduce government control over health care decisions, and avoid mechanisms such as price controls.

"Such an approach would include expanded Health Savings Accounts for individuals; equal tax treatment for health insurance purchased outside of one's employer; and tax credits for the uninsured," NTU said.

NTU's research affiliate, National Taxpayers Union Foundation (NTUF), released an August 2003 study warning that by 2075, a Medicare program that includes drug coverage could devour one-third of the Gross Domestic Product, which could prompt a level of deficit spending not seen since World War II.

NTU describes itself as a non-partisan citizen group that works for lower taxes, less wasteful spending, and a more accountable government.

E-mail a news tip to David Thibault.