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On December 8, 2003, President Bush signed into law the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003; Public Law 108-173 (Medicare Act of 2003). This legislation includes sweeping changes to the Medicare program. It will provide Medicare beneficiaries with some limited assistance paying for prescription drugs. The legislation also extends some programs, and begins others, which will be helpful to Medicare beneficiaries. However, the Medicare Act of 2003 also includes major restructuring of the traditional Medicare program, relying heavily on private insurance for the delivery of benefits. In addition, it increases beneficiary cost sharing responsibilities.

When Medicare prescription drug coverage was proposed, beneficiaries were told that they should expect a program that was as generous as the plan available to Congress. The program offered by the new law does not meet this standard. Unlike the new Medicare drug program, most members of Congress have a drug benefit that does not include a deductible in addition to the one in their health plan. Also unlike the Medicare plan, their insurance does not include the large "doughnut hole" gap in coverage for drugs, nor do members of Congress pay an additional premium for their drug coverage as Medicare beneficiaries will.

While the new law certainly holds promise for some, advocates for beneficiaries are concerned  that for many the Part D benefit will be too confusing and too limited to provide real help, that the private plans and limitations on bulk drug purchasing will prove too expensive, and that the restructuring of the Medicare program into regions and numerous private Medicare Advantage plans will diminish the comprehensive health insurance which the unified program has provided since 1965.

There are many components of the Medicare Act of 2003 at the heart of these concerns and many provisions that are unknown to most people; we list some of them here.

For more information on Medicare Part D, visit our Medicare Part D FAQ page.  We have also prepared a summary of the new law, available for a small fee.  Click HERE to order.



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