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January 18, 2006

JONATHAN COHN:

So just how badly is President Bush's Medicare prescription drug program, known as "Part D," going? On Tuesday morning, I landed in Nashville, Tennessee, to find this bold headline atop the Tennessean front page: "Pharmacists Decry Medicare Chaos." As the article went on to explain, "Area pharmacists are saying that the federal government's new drug plan for the elderly and disabled is a nightmare for druggists and an out-and-out catastrophe for the poor."

A few hours later, I got a glimpse of such frustration first-hand. While I sat inside a clinic that serves a low-income, rural community near the Alabama border, I heard a nurse in the next room scream. She later explained why: She said she had just spent 45 minutes on hold with a Part D insurer, trying to inquire about a prescription, only to get disconnected. And it wasn't the first time.

I guess the Administration could try to spin this as "making Medicare more like private insurance," but the word "debacle" seems more fitting. Not only was this program a bad idea, any hopes the Bush Administration may have had for getting "compassionate conservative" bonus points are unlikely to be borne out.

UPDATE: Reader Robert Jagidtsch emails:

My girlfriend is a pharmacist that works in a facility that supports nursing homes. As you can imagine, virtually every order involves insurers and Medicare.

The bureaucracy of this new program is far worse than the typical government program. It has totally killed productivity, with pharmacy techs on hold forever, as your post from today states. True story: one tech called in, and the insurance company hold message stated "You are caller seven hundred thirteen in the queue."

It's indeed an organizational debacle...

Jeez. If you're #713, you should just be reimbursed for absolutely anything you do. That'll give 'em an incentive to cut the hold times.