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Elma woman praises Part D Retired seamstress meets Bush in White House showcase meeting

A retired seamstress from Elma on Monday told President Bush at a showcase meeting in the White House that the Medicare Part D program has saved her thousands of dollars.

After he met with Joan Wells and other participants brought here to underscore the program's effectiveness, Bush reiterated that he opposes having the government negotiate drug prices.

The House in January passed legislation that would require Medicare to negotiate prices of drugs bought under the 2003 program, but Republicans blocked it in the Senate. Bush says he would veto any such bill.

Wells ranked being in the White House with the president as "really something." However, she told The Buffalo News she was unaware of the conflict between Bush and the Democratic-controlled Congress over drug pricing.

"He [Bush] didn't talk about that" in the meeting, said Wells, 80, who sat next to senior adviser Karl Rove during the half-hour meeting. She said the president "was very gracious and was very concerned about our situations."

Her appearance here was arranged by Independent Health. John Rodgers, the company's vice president for pharmacy, is her son-in-law.

A fact sheet provided by Independent Health said Wells saves $4,000 a year through Part D and the state's Elderly Pharmaceutical Insurance Coverage. She suffers from emphysema. Her co-payments for respiratory medications under Part D and EPIC, the company said, "are similar or lower than the ones she was paying under Conrail retiree benefits."

She was eligible because her late husband was a Conrail employee.

Other beneficiaries were from Texas, Arkansas and North Carolina.

In remarks after the meeting, Bush praised the Medicare drug benefit for costing less than anticipated and for high satisfaction rates among consumers.

"I just want to assure you that we'll do everything we can to jealously guard why this program is working," Bush said.

The president met beneficiaries and supporters of the program shortly before Medicare's trustees issued a report saying the program would run out of money in 2019, absent any changes. Congressional backers of the drug pricing bill say Medicare's money will go much further if the government is required to use its mass buying power to force down prices the way the Department of Veterans Affairs does for veterans.

"As we begin to think through solutions for Medicare, we ought to make sure that we remember the principles inherent in this Medicare reform that has worked so well for our seniors, and that principle is competition works," Bush said.

Leaders of advocacy groups representing blacks, Hispanics and Asian-Americans told Bush the drug benefit has helped reduce disparities in health care.

"The reality was that 30 percent of African-American seniors did not have prescription drug coverage," said Gary Puckrein, president and CEO of the National Minority Quality Forum.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.


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