ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
President Bush says he is determined to clear up confusion about the Medicare prescription drug plan. So he went to Minnesota today to launch what the White House calls a public awareness campaign. Under a law passed by Congress in 2003, millions of seniors will be eligible for some type of prescription drug coverage through the program. There are critics who complain that it gives too much power to private insurers, and they say that many seniors will be confused about where to turn for the best coverage. Mr. Bush touts the law as a resounding achievement. NPR's David Greene was on the road with the president today and filed this report.
DAVID GREENE reporting:
After Air Force One touched down in Minneapolis, Mr. Bush headed for the suburb of Maple Grove. Not so coincidentally, when he arrived at a community center, there was a training session going on for seniors about the new Medicare prescription drug benefit. The White House is aware of the potential for trouble this fall if seniors and others on Medicare aren't braced for the choices they'll face. Depending on income, beneficiaries are eligible for various levels of federal aid to help buy prescription drugs. And many will have a daunting array of options when it comes to choosing drug plans.
After visiting the training session, the president came into the gymnasium. He told an audience that all Americans should reach out to their parents, their neighbors and other seniors. He said he's focusing in particular now on lower-income seniors, who are eligible for extra help in buying their drugs if they fill out the right form and if they meet the deadlines in the new program.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: And, therefore, one of the reasons why I've come to this center is to encourage caregivers and sons and daughters and community and faith-based groups to help seniors understand, one, what's available in the new program, and two, to encourage seniors to fill out the simple four-page form so they can take advantage of this good deal. And it's a good deal. This isn't political talk; this is true.
GREENE: The president portrayed the Medicare changes as a bipartisan success, but he didn't reminisce much about the arguments most Democrats raised against the law, saying it was a boon for pharmaceutical companies and private insurance companies. Mr. Bush also didn't mention the opposition from conservatives, who said the new drug benefit would drain too much money from the federal Treasury. In the end, only a handful of Democrats voted for the legislation. Still, Mr. Bush hailed it as an example of Washington uniting for good.
Pres. BUSH: I believe those of us in public life have a responsibility to fix problems. I saw a problem, and fortunately, members of both political parties came together to fix this problem, to modernize Medicare.
GREENE: Today's program called for the president to interact with some local folks, as he has done often on his Social Security tour. One of his invited guests was Dorothy Bourgeois, a volunteer at the community center. The president suggested that seniors could go to the Web site Medicare.gov for information, which is a potential hurdle for many.
Pres. BUSH: Are you Internet savvy?
Ms. DOROTHY BOURGEOIS (Community Center Volunteer): A little bit.
Pres. BUSH: Yeah. Probably more...
Ms. BOURGEOIS: Not as much as I'd like to be, but...
Pres. BUSH: Well, there's a challenge for you. Why don't we set up a little computer center here, you know?
Ms. BOURGEOIS: She has one.
Pres. BUSH: Oh, she does have one.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GREENE: The White House says Mr. Bush will be hitting the road through the summer and fall to explain the Medicare changes, much as he did in his touted 60 days of promoting changes in Social Security. That Social Security effort is now in its fourth month, and today the White House did not set a time frame on the Medicare tour. David Greene, NPR News, traveling with the president in Maple Grove, Minnesota.
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