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PNHP Board Member on How to Fix the Medicare Drug Benefit

New York Times of Sunday, January 15.

To the Editor:

"States Intervene After Drug Plan Hits Early Snags" (front page, Jan. 8) reports that Medicare recipients are being denied promised prescription help. I would add that this has already increased hospitalizations.

I was outraged last week when one of my patients required hospital admission after stopping her medications because she couldn't afford the new $45.57 co-payment demanded by her assigned private pharmaceutical benefit management company. Medicaid had previously covered her prescriptions.

The administration has designed a drug benefit to protect the pharmaceutical industry and discredit Medicare, our one single-payer health insurance program. Today's mess could have been avoided if Congress had included the pharmacy benefit in Medicare and allowed Medicare to negotiate prices.

Congress should make changes in the drug benefit, instead of letting it serve as an opening wedge to privatizing and thus undermining original Medicare. Then it should extend Medicare coverage to everyone.

Oliver Fein, M.D.
New York, Jan. 9, 2006

The writer is chairman of the Metro New York chapter of Physicians for a National Health Program.