Democrats still pleading for drug plan enrollment extension

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Congressional Democrats have proposed legislation that would extend the May 15 open enrollment period for the Medicare drug benefit and delay the corresponding penalty.

In a March 14 letter to President Bush, House Democratic leadership specifically requested a deadline extension through the end of the year. It is estimated that as many as 1.1 million more elderly beneficiaries would sign up during 2005 if the enrollment penalty were eliminated, according to sponsors of the bill and Congressional Budget Office data. Premiums rise for seniors if they sign up for the program after May 15.

The enrollment extension would add about $3.4 billion in costs over 10 years to the $400 billion to $600 billion program, due to the higher participation rate, according to Rep. Fortney H. "Pete" Stark (D-CA). He is a co-sponsor of the House bill with Janice Schakowsky (D-IL).