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Little Noticed Provision in New Medicare Legislation Calls for Reality TV Pilot Projects
WASHINGTON, DC President Bush signed legislation on Monday that
overhauls Medicare and promises long-awaited help with prescription drug
costs for millions of seniors and the disabled. As health care experts and
economists scoured the bill's 680 pages, plus hundreds of addendums,
trying to understand the far-reaching changes and new private-insurance
options, they made a
startling discovery. Buried under all the language awarding huge incentives
to the drug and healthcare industry was a component that authorizes funding
for testing some unique approaches to revamping Medicare.
The component, dubbed "reality Medicare," consists of underwriting pilots
for three cable television shows designed to cover medical expenses for
selected senior citizens. The first, "Extreme Medical Makeover," features
contestants who have been on the waiting list for transplants for at least
a year and will give them a chance to get a new organ and a new look.
The second offering, "Trading Medications," features weekly bus trips to
Canada where seniors will be randomly assigned to two groups who each go
about trying to obtain their prescription medications in different ways.
One group will go the conventional route and purchase their drugs at
Canadian pharmacies, thus saving at least 50% on their bills. The other
group will be dropped off at a Canadian senior center and attempt to
barter for drugs with their counterparts in the Great White North.
The third piece of the Medicare reality TV strategy, "Medicare Survivor,"
will feature teams of seniors from assisted living facilities around the
country vying with each other for the right to live out their last days on
an island with 24-hour nursing care and unlimited prescription refills.
Activists from around the country are taking a wait and see attitude on
this new direction for Medicare. Opponents of the new legislation claim
that the Republicans are trying to dismantle Medicare any way that they
can, and that these new shows will do very little to help the average
senior citizen with his or her health care needs.
Critics also point out that seniors on Medicare will have to wait until
2006 to see the drug benefit. In the interim, seniors will have three
options: buy a card for $30 that will bring discounts of 10%, 15%, or
perhaps more at retail pharmacies; sign up immediately to become a
contestant on one of the new reality Medicare shows; or die.
Thomas Scully, who resigned as administrator of the Centers for Medicare
and Medicaid Services last week immediately after engineering many details
of the new bill, disagreed, saying that these television opportunities
offered the best chance for seniors to have all their health care needs
"This administration is trying to address the needs of our most vulnerable
citizens in new and creative ways," he explained as he packed up his
office belongings. "Just ask the AARP. They endorsed this legislation, and
they want nothing but the best for our seniors."