Tuesday, February 03, 2004

My Drug Plan Is Better Than Your Drug Plan

My Tribune column got bumped from Sunday to Tuesday due to an Internet worm that effectively blocked access to the newspaper's email servers. If you want to read the Jan. 27 Laura Knaperek column that got me started, it's available here. As for my response, talk about an absolutely thrilling headline--sheesh. I did, however, get the first part of the "Why are Hawyorth and Knaperek upset" line in bold as a box quote below the picture. Check it out in newspaper style here.

Prescription Coverage

East Valley Tribune, Feb. 3, 2004

Maybe some of the unsolicited “advice” I usually get from Republicans is really meant for Laura Knaperek. She’s the defeated former state legislator who’s also a Tribune columnist. (That’s one of more the tiresome criticisms I get, that because I didn’t win my last election, my arguments don’t matter. Well, she lost, too. Thanks, Harry!)

Knaperek’s last column attacked Gov. Napolitano’s senior citizen prescription drug discount program, but Knaperek sure ignored the supposedly well-intentioned advice I’ve been getting. Knaperek may dislike Gov. Napolitano’s policies, but these same advisors must have noticed how she quickly descended into vituperative personal attacks. Yes, it’s (gasp!) “Janet hatred.”

I positively blush to repeat the language Knaperek used, like “covetously dictated” and “stinks” and “obscene” and “king-size -- I mean queen-size -- sweetheart deal.” Why, it’s perfectly clear Knaperek is blinded by partisan bias and Janet hatred. It’s so irrational, isn’t it? I’m sure my critics blanched at Knaperek’s rampant emotionalism and concluded that her vindictive harangue couldn’t persuade anybody.

Exactly what I keep hearing about this so-called “Bush hatred.” But here’s the difference. Republicans use “Bush hatred” to avoid the facts. (It’s hard to argue truthfully about the budget deficit, no WMD in Iraq, and 2.3 million lost jobs.) But Democrats don’t just cry “Janet hatred!” We’re not just dismissive; we’re also substantive. So I’ll explain exactly why Knaperek is wrong, too.

Knaperek complained that Napolitano didn’t describe the new $395 billion -- no, wait, $534 billion! -- Medicare law accurately. But Knaperek didn’t say what wasn’t accurate. It’s because it isn’t humanly possible to explain the incredibly complex Medicare law on only one page. With 600 words? In your dreams.

So Knaperek instead repeated inaccurate criticisms of the Arizona program from Rep. J.D. Hayworth, another victim of the dreaded “Janet hatred” disease. (Makes sense -- you can be negative and inaccurate with 600 words.) Under all the angry rhetoric, they apparently have two complaints. First, the company administering the plan might make too much money. Second, the card isn’t “free,” because while there’s no longer an enrollment fee, there’s a per-prescription dispensing fee.

The first argument -- and Knaperek’s math exercise -- is wrong because she didn’t read the RxAmerica contract. The state can revisit the increased dispensing fee every 6 months, and the additional $1 charge disappears once the company recovers the cost of distributing 1.1 million new cards.

Anyway, why are Hayworth and Knaperek upset over a pharmaceutical company windfall? Wasn’t that the entire point of the Medicare bill, which forbid the government from negotiating discounts -- and why it will take 25 months for seniors to receive a drug benefit, but only 3 months for participating HMO’s to get higher government payments?

The second is the more puzzling criticism, because to most people, a free card means no enrollment fee -- not that there wouldn’t be a charge each time you fill a prescription. But more significantly, under the new Medicare bill Knaperek apparently loves, discount card issuers can charge an enrollment fee up to 3 times the former Arizona enrollment fee. The Medicare bill also authorizes the same dispensing fees, which the House GOP leadership describes as “almost certain” to apply. So if Knaperek thinks the dropping the enrollment fee while raising the dispensing fee $1 is a huge rip-off, wait until she gets a load of Hayworth's Medicare discount card, which will “almost certainly” have both -- and larger ones, too.

There’s more than just “Janet hatred” here. There’s also a total lack of actual evidence. Better watch it, guys; your fellow Republicans, claiming only my best interests at heart, tell me it’s not good strategy.

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