Bush Encourages Seniors to Sign Up For Medicare Prescription Drug Program

President Bush urged Americans who don't speak English to seek help in signing up for the Medicare prescription drug program before the May 15 enrollment deadline.

"There's a lot of people who haven't signed up," Bush said Wednesday to a largely Asian-American audience at Northern Virginia Community College. Some in the crowd who don't speak English wore headphones that fed them a translation.

"I'm trying to show that our government is reaching out to people from all walks of life in all neighborhoods."

Bush was in the Midwest on Tuesday to talk about the program with seniors in Missouri and Iowa. It's been a tough sell because of startup glitches and Democrats who argue that the program is a good deal for pharmaceutical companies and is too confusing for the aged.

There are 40 different plans available in Virginia, Bush said, adding that the choices are there because he doesn't believe the government should pick their plan.

"The problem with that is that can be confusing to some seniors. Some people reach a stage in life where they simply just don't want a choice," he said. "They're happy with the way things are and I knew that would be the case when we started to bring out the Medicare program."

Bush said more than 29 million seniors have enrolled so far. That number, however, includes at least 20 million people who were automatically enrolled because of their participation in other government programs, such as Medicaid, or are getting drug coverage through their former employer.

The presidential events are part of the administration's grass-roots effort to get eligible seniors to sign up. More than 1,000 enrollment seminars are being held across the country each week to educate seniors about their options. People who sign up after the May 15 deadline probably will have to pay higher premiums.

Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, who joined Bush at the event, said the government was working to educate people about the program with Asian-American groups, and non-English speakers can call government hot lines and speak with someone in their native language.