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www.bongonews.com DECEMBER 10, 2003 Copyright © 2001-2014 Bongo News, Inc.
   
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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 met.

"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."
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