Medicare Drug Proposal Harmful to Older Women

The Medicare drug proposal agreement currently before a Congressional Conference Committee, if adopted by the House and Senate, would “do more harm than good to the Medicare system and midlife and older women,” Dr Laurie Young, Executive Director of the Older Women’s League (OWL), asserts. In her statement released this week urging Congress not to pass this bill, Young also said that millions will lose their employer-sponsored health insurance and many will face increases in premiums as they are forced into private demonstration projects and private insurance companies reap billions of dollars in tax cuts in subsidies.

As women account for more than 70% of the elderly poor and comprise the majority of those who are on both Medicare and Medicaid, women will suffer the greatest impact of these proposed changes. The National Council of Women’s Organizations (NCWO) has joined with OWL and other individual women’s organizations, including the Feminist Majority and the National Women’s Law Center, and consumer and labor organizations in opposition to this proposed compromise bill. According to the National Women’s Law Center, “this proposal is harmful to the poorest and sickest women who’s out of pocket expenses would increase above what Medicaid currently allows and co-payments would dramatically increase further in future years.”

Concerns have also been raised by the Consumers Union that by calling for competition between private health plans and traditional fee-for-service Medicare in some metropolitan areas in future years, “the Conference committee proposal takes a dangerous step toward privatization of Medicare.” Their analysis concludes that, “on balance, Medicare beneficiaries will be severely harmed by this proposal.” And they urge consumers to request that Congress pass legislation that meets the needs of seniors and the disabled rather than special interests.

AARP stands out among groups representing seniors as the only one endorsing the proposal, causing a major controversy for the organization. Public Citizen has issued a report, AARP’s Financial Stake in the Medicare Drug Bill, detailing the AARP’s health insurance related income. According to the report, AARP derives about “60% of its annual revenue from selling insurance products” including supplemental drug insurance, mail order prescription drugs and prescription drug discount cards. Further, the report concludes that, should AARP-approved health plans which are already marketed to the members, get its share of the new market created by the proposed plan, the result should be to “dramatically accelerate AARP’s future royalty income, which is based on how much AARP members pay in AARP-affiliated program premiums.”

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Older Women's League 11/18/03; National Women's Law Center 11/19/03; Consumers Union 11/17/03; Public Citizen 11/21/03

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