Jan 17 2006

Shelby expresses Medicare concerns

Senator believes prescription plan too complicated

Columbus Ledger-Enquirer

U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby touched on a variety of subjects Monday night during his town hall meeting with about two dozen residents in the Phenix City Council chambers.

The discussion included the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito, for whom Shelby will vote when and if it comes to the Senate floor, and "running traps" for funds to help local schools and the county youth athletic program.

But no topic was closer to the Alabama senator's heart than Medicare.

He pulled a folded, well-worn full page ad from the Wall Street Journal from his suit jacket and described how the ad -- titled "Demystifying Medicare Part D -- was too complicated for him and probably much too complicated for the seniors who need the program's help in getting their needed prescriptions.

"The thrust of it is good. But it has to be worked out. It has got to be simplified," Shelby said. "This full-page ad appeared in the Wall Street Journal nationwide. No telling how much it cost. This was an ad telling us how we can understand the Medicare benefits.

"And it starts out with the word -- instead of understanding -- demystifying."

The senator said he read the ad and didn't quite understand it, then gave it to others who also didn't fully understand how Medicare Part D, a program designed to make prescription drugs more affordable to senior citizens, is supposed to work.

"I think this was a waste of money. Whoever wrote this ad and wrote the regulations for Medicare needs to go back to the drawing board," Shelby said. "It's too complicated."

Besides Medicare, the senator briefly discussed the possible location of a "major manufacturing facility" in the area -- possibly in the West Point/Lanett area -- and the positive effect it could have on the Chattahoochee Valley .

"I think it would be another shot for the economy of this whole area," Shelby said. "I know when Mercedes came to Tuscaloosa, it didn't just help Tuscaloosa -- it helped everybody. It gave people work from a 60-to-80 mile region."

Among other topics discussed were:

• Base Realignment and Closure : After hearing Phenix City School Superintendent Larry DiChiara discuss the need for more state funding to help prepare East Alabama schools for the families of soldiers coming to the area, Shelby promised to discuss with Gov. Bob Riley the need for more money. " Fort Benning is going to grow and this area will benefit," he said. "But there will also be some growing pains. I have talked to the two Georgia senators and if there is anything we can do, we will do it. But it will have an impact on Russell County ."

• Immigration : Shelby said he was in favor of tightening immigration law to control the number of foreign nationals entering the U.S.

• Youth athletic programs : Shelby said that schools and education was a higher priority than recreation, but after hearing an impassioned plea by J.C. Dykes for more funding for the Russell County youth athletic program, the senator said he would "run traps" to find out if there are grants or other monies that can be secured to help. He said one possibility is to marry recreation facilities with school needs.

• Economic development : The senator, after seeing a schematic drawing of the Phenix City Downtown Riverfront District, said the project was "natural and logical."

"It will help your tax base; it will help your city," Shelby said.

On the Alito nomination, Shelby said: "I've met him. He's smart. He's well-educated. He's been on the bench -- he's experienced. I think he shares some of my values and traditions. I think he will be a good justice for the Supreme Court."