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Media Portray Drug Plan as Boondoggle

     Media coverage of problems facing the new Medicare prescription drug plan focused on elderly patients left in the lurch by bureaucracy, producing what CBSs Bill Plante called a political headache for the Bush administration. But in the Jan. 16 reports on the Evening News and World News Tonight, both networks ignored conservative critics who had argued the plan was doomed to fail because it was a typical big government solution that ignored the free market.

     ABCs David Kerley opened his story featuring Pat Young, a Medicare recipient who got lost in the Medicare system and consequently was in danger of not being able to obtain her drug prescriptions. Kerley did not, however, explore why senior citizens like Young are stuck in the red-tape ridden, inefficient, trillion-dollar government program.

     Writing before the prescription drug bill was passed in 2003, Catos Michael Tanner said that, An option still exists for seniors to choose private sector alternatives to Medicare, but there are no longer any incentives for them to do so. Under the plan about to be passed by Congress, seniors would receive nearly identical drug benefits under both traditional Medicare or private plans.

     Tanner added that without competition on the basis of either price or benefits, few seniors can be expected to move out of traditional Medicare.

     Other conservative critics, such as American Enterprise Institutes Joseph Antos, have also long blasted the drug plan as packing on more weight to a collapsing Medicare system. Antos labeled the drug benefit a fiscal time-bomb and the most fiscally irresponsible legislation in U.S. history.

     In June 2003, Antos, an AEI health care scholar and former Assistant Director for Health and Human Resources at the Congressional Budget Office, faulted the White House for dropping market-oriented reforms while tacking on an expensive Medicare benefit. Take the lack of competition into account and the result is striking, Antos warned, adding, Depending on the future growth of demand for prescription drugs under Medicare, the Senate plan would increase the government's unfunded obligation of between $6 trillion and $7 trillion to $12 trillion. Yet Medicare is already in deep trouble its long-term shortfall amounts to more than $30 trillion. And this is without a new prescription drug benefit.

     Just as conservative criticism of the drug benefit has been persistent over the course of the past three years, so has the medias near-blackout of the plans detractors. A Nexis search of ABC, CBS, and NBC news programs from Jan. 1, 2003 through Dec. 31, 2005 for Medicare and prescription drugs yielded 557 hits. Only two featured criticism of the drug plan by an AEI or Cato expert. The Heritage Foundations Robert Moffit was featured four times and Brian Riedl once in the same time period remarking briefly about the plans cost.