Public Interest Groups Urge Congress To Extend Medicare Part D Enrollment Deadline

WASHINGTON – With millions of Americans set to miss the May 15 cut-off date to sign up for Medicare’s complicated new prescription drug program, dozens of organizations representing millions of members are calling on Congress to extend the enrollment deadline. Seniors who haven’t signed up for the new prescription drug program have less than one month to enroll.

Those who miss the May 15 deadline will have to wait for the next sign-up period and face delayed coverage and higher premium costs, but the Bush administration says it won’t extend the deadline for everyone.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., joined leaders from several groups on a conference call with reporters today to press Congress to let all Medicare beneficiaries sign up for the new drug benefit after May 15, just as the administration has agreed to do for some low-income people.

Sen. Stabenow said that seniors all across Michigan have contacted her about the problems they are having with the Medicare prescription drug program.

“This program is overly complex, it is confusing and seniors need more time to make the right decision. Congress needs to act quickly to extend the enrollment deadline for everyone,” said Sen. Stabenow. “These aren’t just issues of bureaucracy and inconvenience. When it comes to seniors and people with disabilities getting the medicine they need, it can be a matter of life and death.”

Rep. Stark urged the Bush administration to extend enrollment through the end of the year and waive the late enrollment penalty for all Medicare beneficiaries.

“Rather than listen to the corporate interests that oppose the extension of the prescription drug enrollment deadline, the president ought to listen to seniors and people with disabilities who support it,” said Rep. Stark.

Campaign for America’s Future co-director Roger Hickey joined Sen. Stabenow and Rep. Stark on today’s conference call. Hickey announced the launch of a citizens’ campaign, run by Americans United, to force all senators and members of Congress to tell their constituents where they stand on extending the deadline.

“Medicare’s Part D is so hopelessly flawed that the enrollment deadline must be extended to give Congress time to fix this debacle,” said Hickey. “It’s immoral to penalize seniors and the disabled for their failure to sign up for a plan that should have never been this difficult and confusing in the first place. The new prescription drug program is costly, confusing and corrupt and it has left millions without drugs.”

Hickey’s group, Campaign for America’s Future, is a member of the Americans United coalition. Leaders of dozens of groups affiliated with the coalition will gather at AFSCME’s Washington headquarters today to hold a strategy meeting. USAction and other organizations working closely with Americans United are planning to hold dozens of events this month in Penn., Wash., Fla., Iowa, Minn., Mont., Tenn. and Maine to pressure Congress to extend the deadline and fix Part D.

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, and 46 other senators also joined the fight today by sending Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., a letter urging him to extend the deadline. Extension of the enrollment deadline would result in an additional 1.1 million sign-ups this year  and lower late-enrollment penalties for 10 million seniors and people with disabilities for the rest of their lives, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

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