(Washington, D.C.) – Today at a Capitol Hill news conference, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash) joined Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark) in calling for the Senate to pass legislation to give vulnerable Americans an additional six months to transition into the new Medicare Prescription drug program.
After speaking at the press conference, Murray went to the Senate floor where she introduced her amendment to protect dual eligibles.
Senator Murray’s press conference remarks follow:
As I watch the debate in the Senate this week, I'm reminded of something President Franklin Roosevelt once said:
"The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much, it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little."
The Senate is facing that exact test this week. The Republicans want to cut the programs that help those who have too little – so that in a few weeks they can give huge tax breaks to those at the very top. Those are the wrong priorities. The Republican budget would cut $27 billion from Medicaid -- a health care program and a safety net for our country's most vulnerable and sickest. I think that's wrong.
But that's not the only problem our most vulnerable are facing. 6.4 million people could lose their drug coverage when the new Medicare prescription drug law is implemented. I'm talking about people who have been dealt a very tough hand -- people with low incomes, the disabled, those in nursing homes, and those facing serious medical challenges like AIDS.
In Washington, D.C. we call these people dual eligibles – because they're eligible for help from both Medicare and Medicaid. But the bottom line is they are Americans who are about to lose the safety net that protects them unless the Senate acts.
Last month, I held roundtables in 5 communities in Washington state, and I can tell you that low income families are very nervous about what will happen to them under the new drug law.
The law takes away the critical drug coverage people have today and puts them into a new program that could charge them more money in exchange for less drug coverage. If they don’t sign up for a plan, they're randomly assigned one. Either way, the prescriptions they need may not be covered.
And because these Americans are living on the financial brink, an interruption of their drug coverage – or a new co-payment – could keep them from getting the drugs they need to live.
The people who are being affected don't know what's going to happen. Their doctors and pharmacists don't understand it either – and this entire mess is going to burst into the open on January 1st.
For our most vulnerable, the new drug law will impose higher costs, cover fewer drugs, block states from providing extra help – as they do today, and provide no transition period to ensure low-income residents don't face gaps in coverage.
Our states and communities need more time to make sure these individuals don't fall through the cracks.
I've offered an amendment with Senators Rockefeller and Bingaman to help protect our most vulnerable. My amendment provides a six month transition to make sure that the least among us have enough time to get into the right drug plan and to understand how their coverage will change.
My amendment says – we're going to make sure that no one who is struggling today will lose their drug coverage as they transition into the new system.
As F.D.R. said – the test of our progress is how we treat those who have too little. The Senate is being tested this week, and I hope that we pass my amendment and the others that my colleagues here have offered – and show that we still care about all Americans – not just those at the top.