Medicare not good enough for Congressmen

In a glaring example of Congressional hypocrisy, federal lawmakers are working to ensure that when they retire they won’t have to live under the Medicare drug reforms they’re attempting to enact for mere commoners.
The House recently passed legislation to guarantee that federal retirees — future retired members of Congress included — receive comparable health benefits as current federal workers, effectively locking them into the federal health benefits plan that provides better access to drug coverage than Medicare would offer. A similar bill is pending in the Senate.
The legislation was created out of a concern that federal retirees — including former members — would be dumped into Medicare’s drug coverage at some point in an effort by insurers to cut costs. If that occurs, retirees would then be subjected to far less generous options in Medicare than they currently receive under the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, which provides a smorgasbord of private insurance plans, including prescription drug coverage, to some 8.5 million federal workers, members of Congress and federal retirees.
When President Bush in January challenged lawmakers to use the federal health benefits system as a model for Medicare reform and allow seniors to tailor their health insurance benefits, he said, “if it’s good enough for the Congress, it’s good enough for the senior citizens of America.”
While greater access, choice and quality must be important to Congressional representatives in their own health benefits program, the standard sadly isn’t important enough for Medicare recipients as House and Senate negotiators work out a compromise to competing Medicare drug coverage bills that will likely fall far short of providing the options the president had in mind.
The House proposal would offer some access to private health plans — similar to the federal employees’ program — but not until at least 2010. The Senate’s bill is far worse and calls for a new Clinton-esque government bureaucracy to choose eligible plans in the future.
While lawmakers are protecting themselves and federal retirees from the Medicare drug benefit, seniors in private retirement health plans may not be so fortunate.
The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that about one-third of retirees now covered through former employers could lose drug coverage and be forced to rely on a new Medicare benefit, as private health plans look for ways to cut costs. If Medicare provides drug coverage, the thinking goes, why should private plans duplicate the benefit for retirees?