US Senator Charles E. Schumer brought US Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna E. Shalala to Long Island today to hear New York seniors' concerns about Medicare. Schumer and Shalala held a rountable with seniors to discuss the Administration's Medicare proposal, particularly the importance of preserving Medicare's solvency and the plan to create a prescription drug benefit.

"As I have traveled throughout Long Island and all of New York State, I have found that the number one concern for seniors is the future of Medicare and the high cost of paying for medication," said Schumer. "I have brought Secretary Shalala here today to hear these concerns and discuss solutions."

Typically, even healthy and active senior citizens on Long Island spend over one thousand dollars each year on medication. When Medicare was created in 1965, prescription medication was not often used to treat many ailments or for preventive health, like reducing the risks of heart attacks and strokes. However, while research and innovation has led to groundbreaking discoveries for drugs and increased their role in health care, Medicare does not include coverage for prescription drugs.

"Prescription drugs are now an essential component in treating and preventing nearly all health problems that the elderly face," said Schumer. "We are missing a major aspect of health care for seniors when there is no prescription drug benefit through Medicare. When seniors have to choose between the drugs that can help them lead an active life and their financial health that is a false choice."

The Administration's Medicare plan will add a new voluntary prescription drug benefit to make affordable prescription drugs available to all beneficiaries. The benefit would:


  1. Provide half of annual prescription costs up to $5,000 per beneficiary.
  2. Have premiums of approximately $24 per month beginning in 2002 (when the benefit starts with a $2,000 cap) and $44 per month when fully phasedin by 2008.
  3. Allow patients with incomes below 135% of the poverty line to pay no premiums and those between 135 and 150% to pay reduced rates.
  4. Offer financial incentives to employers not to drop coverage they currently make available to employees and retirees.

"A prescription benefit will allow seniors to not only live longer, but to live fuller and more active and healthy lives," said Schumer.

Schumer also stressed that the development and use of generic drugs, which have the same chemical makeup as brandname drugs but typically cost much less, could lead to significant savings for seniors and Medicare.

To guarantee Medicare's solvency well into the next century, the Administration's plan would also devote a portion of the nonSocial Security Trust Fund surplus to extend the life of the Medicare Trust Fund.

"I am glad to join with Secretary Shalala today to keep the drumbeat going on preserving Medicare and making prescription drugs available to seniors," said Schumer. "For Long Island seniors there is no more important issue."

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