Congressman Doyle Urges Delay in Medicare Sign-Up Penalties

April 12, 2006
Press Release

Washington, DC –  U.S. Representative Mike Doyle (PA-14) responded to Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt’s visit to Pittsburgh today by calling on the Bush Administration to support an extension of the deadline for seniors to sign up for the new Medicare prescription drug benefit.

“Because the Medicare prescription drug plan that Congress passed at the President’s request was poorly designed, overly complex, and terribly implemented, I think that it’s only fair that Congress extend the deadline by which seniors can sign up for the new benefit without being hit with a premium surcharge,” Congressman Doyle said. “That’s why I’m a cosponsor of legislation that would give seniors six additional months in which to sign up for the new benefit without incurring any penalty.”

Secretary Leavitt attended an event at the Prime Time Activities Center in Pittsburgh today to encourage local seniors to sign up for the new Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit by May 15.

“The controversial new Medicare prescription drug benefit will help some senior citizens a great deal, but it may not be such a great deal for other seniors,” Congressman Doyle observed.  “Many low- income seniors will benefit greatly from signing up, for example.  But seniors face a daunting challenge sorting through all of the different options and deciding what choice is best for them.”

Congress enacted the new Medicare prescription drug benefit in 2003, and the benefit went into effect on January 1st of this year.  Senior citizens and disabled individuals could sign up for the new benefit as of November 15, 2005.  Seniors who sign up for the benefit after May 15, 2006, will have to pay higher premiums for this benefit for the rest of their lives.

“The administration designed an unnecessarily complex prescription drug benefit and bobbled the program’s roll-out,” he added.  “In light of this unfortunate history, I think it’s only fair that Congress give seniors an additional six months to sign up for the new benefit before the financial penalties kick in.”

Roughly 43 million senior citizens and disabled individuals are eligible to participate in the new Medicare prescription drug benefit plan.  20 million of them already have prescription drug coverage provided by their employers or through a different government program.  According to government figures released last month, only 7 million of the remaining 23 million people have signed up for the new prescription drug benefit.

 “The Medicare prescription drug benefit bill was written by the Republicans in Congress to help the drug manufacturers and the insurance companies – not our senior citizens,” Congressman Doyle said.  “Under this law, insurance companies get billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies while the federal government is prohibited from negotiating lower drug prices for Medicare beneficiaries and Americans are prohibited from importing less expensive drugs from Canada.  I think that’s obscene.  That’s why I voted against it.”

“Ideally, Congress would rewrite the law so that it did more for Medicare beneficiaries and less for the pharmaceutical and insurance companies,”Congressman Doyle added.  “If that’s out of the question, then the least we can do is extend the sign-up deadline and hold seniors harmless for the many mistakes the administration has made in designing and rolling out the new Medicare prescription drug program."