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Senate rejects extension of Medicare deadline

Associated Press
Published February 3, 2006

WASHINGTON - The Senate rejected an effort by Democrats on Thursday to give older Americans and the disabled more time to enroll in Medicare's prescription drug benefit.

Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, offered an amendment to tax legislation that would have given Medicare beneficiaries until Jan. 1 to enroll without penalty. The current deadline is May 15.

The amendment also would have allowed people to switch their prescription drug coverage to another plan if they were unhappy with current coverage.

The amendment received a majority of votes, 52-45, but needed 60 to pass under Senate rules for measures concerning budgets and taxes.

Nelson said his amendment was a chance for lawmakers to act on complaints they've heard from their constituents since the program began Jan. 1.

But Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said the legislation was unnecessary. He said passing a bill would only cause delays in solving problems that can be dealt with administratively by Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt.

At a hearing on the problem earlier Thursday, Nelson told fellow lawmakers of seeing elderly people weep as they described difficulties in filling their prescriptions.

The Bush administration has asked private insurers to supply older people with an additional 60-day supply of medicine in emergency cases.

That will give beneficiaries more time to find alternative treatments when their plan will not cover a prescription or more time to file an appeal. Pharmacists had warned that the previous 30-day limit could pose significant problems for poor older people and the disabled.

[Last modified February 3, 2006, 01:25:14]

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