The administration says that by the end of the sign-up period Monday, it expects nearly 90 percent of the roughly 42.5 million Americans eligible for Medicare Part D to have some kind of drug coverage. It also estimates that the average beneficiary will save more than $1,100 this year alone. About 9 million people signed up on their own. Others were moved from prior drug programs, were automatically signed up by their insurers, or have equivalent coverage through retirement programs.
But critics say the government's coverage numbers have been manipulated and are far too optimistic. "[B]y our conservative analysis, about 10 million older adults and disabled Americans still lack drug coverage," Mr. Hayes says.
Despite calls for an extension from members of Congress and interest groups, both Mr. Bush and Michael Leavitt, secretary of Health and Human Services, have said that the deadline is firm - with one exception: low-income Americans eligible for Part D (about $15,000 yearly income for singles, $20,000 for couples), who get an indefinite reprieve. The administration estimates that about half of the 5.7 million eligible Americans who haven't signed up for Part D are in this low-income group.
The Congressional Budget Office has calculated that extending the deadline to the end of the year would cost an additional $100 million.
The cost of the plan rises 1 percent per month for those who are eligible, and it rises at that rate for as long as they wait. The next time eligibles will be allowed to join a plan is seven months away (Jan. 1, 2007), so they'll have to pay at least 7 percent more.