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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Finally, feds begin to clean up drug plan

It's understood: You make a mess, you clean it up.

Now it appears that the federal government is owning up to the confusion generated over the Medicare prescription drug plan. The feds will see that the private insurance companies reimburse the money that states shelled out for low-income subscribers whose new drug coverage hadn't kicked in by the time the new plan took effect.

That's welcome news from the Bush administration, and an acknowledgment that the plan had too many kinks to work out in time for launch.

But federal officials have said reimbursement would continue through Feb. 15, assuming problems will be solved by then. Given all the complications to date, that's not a safe bet.

They simply should pledge to cover costs until each state can deliver prescription drugs to Medicaid beneficiaries.

Fortunately, there is movement now to work more actively to untangle the knotty problems. To its credit, the state's Department of Human Services anticipated the problems and was the first state agency in the country to devise a contingency plan to cover the needy subscribers.

This week, they reap the reward for that foresight: Hawai'i is at the head of the line to receive visiting Medicare teams who will work with pharmacists here to iron out the wrinkles.

That makes sense. The front lines of the prescription delivery system, in every state, are exactly where they need to be to set things right. Telephone and Web-based customer support had been in place, but obviously this challenge required face-to-face communications.

Meanwhile, Democrats in Congress are pushing a bill that would provide more protections and clearer explanations for seniors.

This help may be too little and too late to provide much clarity. But what will benefit taxpayers is the discussion the bill will generate about the way the new program developed. Drug companies had more detail than did the Democrats on the Hill, said U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman, who also questions the scarcity of advance information on the program.

We would all like the answer to such questions.