ORLANDO, Florida – Hoping to boost enrollment in new Medicare drug coverage for the elderly and increase the program's popularity, President George W. Bush defended it Wednesday against criticism that the signup process is too confounding for seniors and too expensive for taxpayers.
Before a mostly Latino audience — the poor and minorities are lagging behind in signing up for the prescription drug benefit— Bush urged the elderly to at least look at the program and take advantage of the help offered. He said the average senior citizen sees drug costs cut by half through the program.
Polls show most who have enrolled are happy to get help with their medicine costs. But many seniors and those trying to help them still are complaining about the program's complexity. Most people have more than 40 private plans to select from, and savings vary depending on the medicines needed, income levels and the plan chosen.
But Bush, finishing a three-day swing through the state with the highest percentage of senior citizens, said choice is a crucial element of the program.
For one thing, he said that making several plans available creates competition that is driving down the program's cost — a chief complaint of conservatives who have bemoaned the enormous expense of the new government benefit.
Also, "not everybody's needs are the same," the president said.
"The program is not as complicated as one would initially think," he said during an appearance at the Puerto Rican Club of Central Florida. "And there are lot of people who can help you."
The new program allows 43 million seniors and disabled people to enroll in a government-paid private plan that will subsidize the cost of their prescription medications through Medicare. About 37 million people have now either signed up or been automatically enrolled, so federal officials from Bush on down are engaged in an all-out push to spread the word to those remaining and help them navigate the process of selecting a plan.