Taxpayer Groups Urge Congress to Scrap Prescription Drug Plan

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

( - More than three dozen taxpayer advocacy groups are urging lawmakers to scrap the Medicare prescription drug plan now working its way through Congress.

Critics say taxpayers will be "trampled in the rush to create a new entitlement program."

In an effort organized by the National Taxpayers Union, 38 organizations sent a letter to all members of Congress on Tuesday, warning lawmakers that the new prescription drug entitlement would be "the height of fiscal irresponsibility," coming as it does on top of large increases in federal spending and in light of the looming Medicare and Social Security crises.

The taxpayer watchdog groups oppose the prescription drug bill on several grounds.

First, the reported 10-year, $400-billion cost for the new prescription drug benefit is "almost certainly a fantasy," the taxpayer groups said in a joint press release. The groups noted that Medicare itself now costs seven times more than it was projected to cost when the program was first created in the 1960s.

Second, as the letter to lawmakers notes, "Instead of being targeted at low-income seniors, the legislation...would create universal coverage, even though 76 percent of seniors now have some form of prescription drug coverage, and the average senior spends less than $999 per year of their own funds on medications.

"Having middle-income workers subsidizing drug costs for wealthy seniors -- as this bill would do -- may make sense to Ted Kennedy, but it makes no sense to us and is one of the worst features of this legislation," the letter said.

And finally, the taxpayer groups said the bill will make things worse for many senior citizens who currently have good health care coverage. "Many companies that now provide a drug benefit for their retirees will be inclined to discontinue that benefit once the federal government offers its own plan," the letter warned.

The taxpayer advocacy groups are urging Congress to come up with alternative legislation that respects the principles of limited government.

The letter, signed by groups from 23 states, was addressed to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and copies were sent to all members of Congress.

Political expediency

Based on voter surveys, various pollsters say the sooner the Republican-controlled Congress passes a prescription drug bill -- and the sooner President Bush signs it -- the better.

In a recent interview with the Associated Press, Republican pollster Linda DiVall said passage of a prescription drug bill would give Republicans an opportunity to "provide a benefit that people would be pleasantly surprised came from Republicans."

Other pollsters reportedly agree that it would be a political windfall for President Bush to sign a prescription drug benefit by the end of the year.

On Tuesday, at a White House press conference, President Bush told Congress to move quickly in sending a Medicare bill to his desk.

But progress so far has been slow. Republican lawmakers reportedly hoped to finalize the prescription drug bill on Friday, but after hours of negotiations, a House-Senate conference committee couldn't resolve a dispute involving the competitive role of private insurers.

Press reports say lawmakers are hoping to reach a deal by the end of this week.

But in their letter to lawmakers, the taxpayer advocacy groups say it would be better to go back to the drawing board than to pass the current legislation.

"Taxpayers will remember those who had the courage to oppose this bill -- and those who didn't -- long after next year," the letter to lawmakers said.

See Earlier Stories:
Medicare Drug Plan Raises Cost, Privacy Concerns (Oct. 16, 2003)
Medicare Prescription Drug Bill Dissed By Conservatives and Liberals (Sept. 4, 2003)