The deadline for signing up for Medicare prescription drug plan (Part D), described as another government “debacle,” passed Monday with approximately 10 million older adults and Americans with disabilities still had not enrolled.

President Bush had refused to extend the deadline, despite the program’s intimidating enrollment process, because, he said last week, to “help people understand there’s finality, and people need to get after it.”

Some day, if he is lucky, Mr. Bush will grow old. Perhaps then he will understand that the elderly sometimes find it difficulty to “get after it.”

The goal of the Medicare program needs to be people’s health, not monetary penalties.

In an ABC/Washington Post poll last month, 70 percent of seniors favored extending the deadline. In recent weeks, there has been a “growing rebellion” against Bush by a bipartisan group of lawmakers who have urged the administration to extend the deadline and lift the penalties on the program.

The enrollment process has been plagued by computer mistakes, inadequately staffed telephone help lines, and government exaggerations and misstatements from the beginning.

Initially the administration projected 40.7 million seniors and Americans with disabilities would enroll in the prescription drug plan, and as late as mid-April a spokesman for the so-call Medicare Modernization Act announced that, “Enrollment is surpassing our goals, satisfaction is high, and we see no reason to extend a deadline that’s working.”

But as last week it was revealed that those projections had been grossly overstated. Now while the administration congratulates itself on “surpassing” its goals, an estimated 10 million elderly adults and Americans with disabilities continue to lack coverage.

USA Today reports that the program “is being used least by those who could benefit most: Poor, often minority Medicare beneficiaries.” Only 24 percent of such beneficiaries have been approved or have enrolled. Individuals with few health problems — necessary to keep drug prices down for the entire group — have also been slow to sign up. An estimated 1.1 million more seniors would enroll if given more time.

Up to the deadline date, enrolling for the plan thus far has been a confusing and mistake-riddled experience. A recent GAO report found efficient customer service to be sorely lacking, concluding that “Medicare’s telephone operators frequently give callers false or incomplete information; that call waiting times lasted from a few minutes to almost an hour, and the government Web site was so confusing that some people gave up before completing the process.

Seniors have been urged to enroll via the Internet, which is much easier, but only one in four seniors have access to the Internet.

According to one report, even the parents of Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt, “ended up picking a plan that put their retiree medical coverage at risk. And this after Leavitt helped his parents in making their initial selection.”

When the head of Health and Human Services can’t grasp his own plan, it should be obvious that more work is needed.



The old curmudgeon ...

It was 52 years ago last week that the Supreme Court handed down the Brown vs. Board of Education decision, in which the doctrine of “separate but equal” education was found unconstitutional.

Us old folks remember those as the days when the government paid attention to the Constitution.