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Weiner decries high cost of prescription drugs

In response to threats of cuts to programs for the elderly due to budget constraints, U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills) spoke to seniors at the Austin Senior Center in Forest Hills Friday, addressing concerns such as prescription drug programs for the elderly, Medicare and Social Security.

"There has been an increase in 2.1 percent for the cost of living this year in the whole nation," said Weiner. "While the price of computers and electronics has gone down, the costs for drugs and rents have gone up... The costs for healthcare have gone up by over 7 percent."

Weiner said he supported instituting a nationwide prescription drug program for seniors, opposed investing Social Security funds in the stock market, supported developing a public database of doctors who had been found guilty of malpractice, and opposed putting a cap on the amount of retribution money that could be granted to malpractice victims.

"Prescription drugs for seniors should be covered by the federal government," said Weiner, responding to a question about New York State's Elderly Pharmaceutical Insurance Coverage Program, a prescription program available to seniors not covered by Medicaid who meet certain income requirements.

EPIC allows seniors to pay only $3 for prescriptions costing up to $15, $7 for prescriptions from $15 to $35, $15 for prescriptions from $35 to $55, and $20 for prescriptions over $20.

Weiner said programs like EPIC should not be administered by the state.

Rather, they should be spread out as a nationwide program, so that costsfor prescription drugs for seniors throughout the country could be lower.

The congressman also said he opposed reducing the amount of money reimbursed to doctors by Medicare because this could result in doctors dropping out of the program.

"We can't expect to reimburse doctors less and less and still expect the same services," said Weiner. "We should be reimbursing doctors $10, rather than reimbursing $100 to the hospitals when you get really sick."

On the issue of Social Security, Weiner assured seniors that the system was working and would be solvent until at least the year 2042.

"Even while the economy is going down, more people are entering the work force and paying into the fund," Weiner explained. "The system is working the way it's supposed to. One generation has a contract with another generation."

Weiner urged seniors to stay active in the community and to fight for their rights.

"Never underestimate how powerful you are," he said. "Very often budget cuts follow the path of least resistance. If people pound away, very often the cuts will go somewhere else."

Rachel Epstein, the program director at the Austin Senior Center, thought the congressman made some good points.

"I think his idea about Medicare covering the cost of EPIC is good," she said. "That would lower the cost for everybody throughout the country."

Reach reporter Tien-Shun Lee by email at Timesledger@aol.com, or call 718-229-0300, ext. 155.

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