Total Coverage of President Bush's Visit
Before leaving for Des Moines, Iowa, the president met with a crowd of 650 people to talk about the Medicare Part D prescription plan in the Miller Performing Arts Center. Click on the video window to see his entire conversation.
Six people joined the president on the stage to talk about the Medicare program. They understand the challenges of helping senior citizens with their medical care. The group included: Dr. Mark McClellan, Medicare Medicaid Services; Linda Detring, Lutheran Senior Services; Jodie Baker, KMART pharmacist; Jerry Sooter, senior citizen; Helen Robinettem, senior citizen; and Bob Vanderfetlz, senior citizen.
Randy Allen, Exective Director of the Chamber of Commerce wrote a letter to the White House a few months ago asking for the president to visit Jefferson City since they have a high community interest.
"Medicine [has] changed, but Medicare hasn't," Bush commented. "Once the government makes a commitment, it ought to be a solid commitment, a good commitment."
"This bill helps all seniors afford prescription drugs. It gives seniors choices. I know this was a problem, some people don't want to be confronted with choice."
The president says he understands that early on the process would be confusing, there are 42 different plans for seniors to choose from. But firmly believes that the government shouldn't be making medical decisions for senior citizens.
Mark McClellan, from Medicare/Medicaid Service, says over 29 million people are already participating in the program. However, about seven million people are qualified for the program still haven't taken a look at it. McClellan is dedicated to giving personalized help for senior citizens attempting to find more information on the new drug benefit. Medicare/Medicaid services has more than a thousand events scheduled all over the country to help people find out about the program.
"Everyone in Medicare can take advantage of this drug program," McClellan said.
Also on stage with President Bush was Jerry Sooter, a retired senior citizen from Missouri. Sooter signed up for Medicare Part D plan online.
"As a senior, down the road, I know that in all likelihood, unless the good Lord takes me home first, I'm going to need prescriptions. I would have signed up anyways, as a matter of having piece of mind," explained Sooter.
Another panelist on stage, Helen Robinettem, commented on her experience with the new Medicare plan.
"About three years ago, in 24 hours, I was put on medication of 12 different kinds a day. For three years, that [ran me] between $200 to $300 a month. I save approximately $200 a month."
Robinettem's insurance agent explained the new Medicare plan to her and consequently signed them up for the program. Her inhaler, that she used to baby to last longer, now only costs her five dollars.
Before reaching his final public event in Jefferson City, the president met privately with seniors at Heisinger Bluff Senior Center to talk about the Medicare Part D plan.
There were approximately 75 to 100 people outside the center. The majority of them were supporters, but there a few protestors stood outside the facility. When the president arrived, the crowd was calm with a few supporters clapping and waving flags.
Jeff Harris, state representative Democrat, commented on KOMU about the president's visit to Heisigner Bluff and the new Medicare initiative. He laid out a three part initiative to make the plan more conducive to senior citizens including extending the May 15 deadline, allowing Medicare to engage in bulk purchasing and allowing the state of Missouri to bring suit against the federal government with regards to Medicare Part D.
"One fundamental change is this, extend the deadline from May 15th. For every month that you miss after May 15, there's a tax, a pentality on the senior citizen who signed up," Harris explained.
After President Bush's final stop, Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder reacted to the panel.
"I thought he was at his best at a forum like this with real Missourians, real Americans," Kinder said. "It's one thing to hear [a politician] tout a program, it's another to hear real people say 'this was a God send.'"
Kinder also expressed a desire to redouble their efforts to educate senior citizens of the many choices available to them.
State representative Danie Moore also spoke about the program.
"There was some frustration at the beginning, but in visiting with them since, the long story was tough but the short story is that its working out and it is a wonderful program," Moore explained.
Congressman Kenny Hulshoff noted that the Medicare Part D plan is ultimately going to have long term savings, but more importantly it will positively impact the seniors who depend on them. Hulshoff also explained that people don't have to be computer savvy in order to find out what the plan may offer them.
"This is a way to make the private market work, as far as the prices," Hulshoff explained, "Even if you don't support it when it passed, we now have an obligation to the people to help them find a plan that will work."
Democratic state auditor Claire McCaskill, had a different view of the Medicare Part D plan.
"In spite of what they're saying today, the vast majority of mid Missouri hasn't signed up for this program. If they haven't, they will incur a permanent tax for the rest of their lives."
McCaskill complained that Washington hasn't been listening to what senior citizens are saying. She also noted that if senior citizens don't meet the May 15 deadline, they will incur a lifetime penalty. In her eyes, the solution to the problem is quite clear.
"It's very simple, extend the deadline."
The president's next stop was Des Moines, Iowa.