What ever happened to Seniorcare?

“Can you do anything to save SeniorCare?” The older woman surprised me as I was on my way to the pick up truck with an armload of groceries. SeniorCare has been through quite a few troubles lately. But the answer is “Yes.” We can save SeniorCare.

SeniorCare is a prescription drug program for people who are of moderate means and over 65. It is a great alternative to the complexity of Medicare Part D – the drug program everyone loves to hate.

SeniorCare is truly a Wisconsin invention that has been around since 2002. It is the only state-based alternative to the complicated maze of plans that is Medicare Part D – the drug benefit for seniors.

The program is simple. People must be Wisconsin residents, over age 65, and meet income requirements. The program requires a $30 a-year fee and has a simple one-page form for enrollment. People love the program, as do health care workers, pharmacists and nursing homes. But the program has been in trouble.

Not only is the program simple, it is also less expensive. Under the Medicare Part D alternative, the federal government would end up paying an additional $60 million a year.

Medicare is a federal program with rules set by the federal government. To keep SeniorCare in place the state needed permission from the federal government. This permission expires June 30, 2007. The state applied for a renewal of its ‘waiver’ – that is waiving the rules. But the federal government did not give permission to continue the program.

This set off a flurry of activity. All of the state legislators – both Republicans and Democrats – sent letters to Washington, D.C., asking everyone from the president to Congress for help. The governor visited Washington, D.C., but to no avail. The program seemed doomed.

So much so that the governor sent his staff to work on help for seniors under Medicare Part D. Remember, the program we all love to hate?

This story has a good ending and it actually came from Washington, D.C., a place that always has strange politics. But now, with a Republican president and a Democratic Congress, we see even stranger things happening. The salvation of SeniorCare was no exception.

In an eleventh hour deal, our Wisconsin Senator Herb Kohl and Congressman Dave Obey tucked into an emergency war spending bill a provision for SeniorCare to continue until 2009.

It was not the cleanest way to bring life back to SeniorCare but it did work. I thought Senator Kohl had the best quote of the day when he said, “I’m here rooting for my state. I’ll take it any way we can get it.”

So SeniorCare will continue unchanged into the foreseeable future. Wisconsin’s 105,000 seniors are grateful. As is this rookie state senator. Thanks Senator Kohl and Congressman Obey.

Want to know more about enrolling in SeniorCare Let me know! Call Black River Falls at (715) 284-1730; In Eau Claire at (715) 838-0448 or in Madison at (877) 763-6636 (toll free); or write: State Capitol; P.O. Box 7882 Madison, WI 53707-7882 or email Sen.Vinehout@legis.wisconsin.gov.