Medicare Rx: Large number of Missourians are sgining up

Monday, April 3, 2006

I haven't taken a good look at the Medicare prescription plan, but having heard some of my friends of like age discuss the benefits, I probably should.

A large number of Missouri seniors have joined the program. We've generally been bombarded with how hard the program is to understand, but 66 percent of eligible Missourians have signed up. I'm in the minority.

The following is part of a press release: U.S. Sen. Jim Talent recently announced that 603,456 Missouri seniors have enrolled in the new Medicare prescription drug benefit. Since last month, more than 42,000 more seniors signed up for the benefit in Missouri. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services released the new numbers.

"Each month, more and more seniors are signing up to pay less for their prescription drugs or to access a drug benefit for the first time," said Talent, who helped pass the Medicare prescription drug bill in the U.S. Senate.

There are 917,102 seniors and disabled people eligible for the Medicare benefit in Missouri. As of March 18, 66 percent of those eligible are enrolled in the new voluntary prescription drug benefit. Nationally, an average of 380,000 seniors enroll for the benefit every week. CMS reports that the enrollment rate is on course to achieve the goal of 28 to 30 million people receiving the drug benefit in the first year. Seniors who have not yet signed up have until May 15 before the next enrollment period begins in November.

Additional information about the new Medicare drug law can be found on the Internet at and on Talent's Web site at

My various jobs

My first job was working in an orange juice factory, but I got canned. Couldn't concentrate.

Then I worked in the woods as a lumberjack, but I just couldn't hack it, so they gave me the ax.

After that I tried to be a tailor, but I just wasn't suited for it, mainly because it was a sew-sew job.

Next I tried working in a muffler factory, but that was too exhausting.

Then I tried to be a chef. Figured it would add a little spice to my life, but I just didn't have the thyme.

I attempted to be a deli worker, but any way I sliced it I couldn't cut the mustard.

My best job was being a musician, but eventually I found I wasn't noteworthy.

I studied a long time to become a doctor, but I didn't have any patients.

Next was a job in a shoe factory. I tried, but I just didn't fit in.

I became a professional fisherman but discovered I couldn't live on my net income.

I managed to get a good job working for a pool maintenance company, but the work was just too draining.

So then I got a job in a workout center, but they said I wasn't fit for the job.

After many years of trying to find steady work, I finally got a job as a historian until I realized there was no future in it.

My last job was working at Starbucks, but I had to quit because it was always the same old grind.

-- Fun on the Internet

Missouri ponders school choice: Missouri state legislators, especially those affiliated with the Democratic Party, face a difficult decision. Soon they will consider legislation that would encourage scholarships that students struggling in public schools could use to attend alternative schools of their parents' choice. So far, the legislation has attracted bipartisan support, despite opposition from the state's powerful education lobby, a reliable Democratic ally. The struggle to bring school choice to this bellwether state offers a window into the national school-choice debate.

The Missouri legislation would allow up to $40 million in tax credits for individual or corporate contributions to not-for-profits that award scholarships to students from low-income families now attending public school in St. Louis, Kansas City or Wellstone School District. To participate, students must have a grade point average of 2.5 or less. They could use the scholarship funds to attend schools that better meet their needs.

School choice opponents are out in full force, campaigning across the state to defeat the legislation. "This is the beginning of the end of public education as we know it," said Joe Wanda, Bozeman president of the Missouri Parkway Education Association, a teachers union. The Rev. B. T. Rice of the NAACP warned that "if we do nothing, then the worst bill that has ever crossed the state Capitol will pass." The Missouri plan is drawing support from Republican and Democratic state legislators as well as from Gov. Matt Blunt, a Republican, and St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, a Democrat. "I can't imagine why anyone would be opposed to this," said Jeff Rainford, a spokesman for Mayor Slay. "We are talking about a very limited program for the poor who are trapped in poor schools. There is no slippery slope here."

Rep. Ted Hoskins, a Democrat from St. Louis, is the chair of the Missouri General Assembly's Black Caucus and a sponsor of the legislation. "We have young people who are not being properly prepared in the school system, and they cannot compete," he explained. "Low-income parents don't have the ability to send their students to schools of their choice." Tax credits for donations to scholarship programs exist in Arizona, Florida, and Pennsylvania. These programs now help about 60,000 students attend private schools. Despite opponents' hyperbole, tax credits have not led to the "end of public education as we know it" anywhere. Rather, they provide an additional option to students who aren't being served by public schools.

The dozens of school choice programs throughout the country should give Missouri citizens an idea of what they can expect if this legislation passes.

School choice increases parental satisfaction. A 2003 U.S. Department of Education report studied trends in school choice and found that parents exercising choice "were more likely to say they were very satisfied with their children's schools, teachers, academic standards, and order and discipline than parents whose children attended public, assigned schools." School choice also boosts academic achievement for participating children. Eight "random-experiment" studies of the effect of school vouchers have compared the test scores of participating students with those of public school students. All of these studies found that children in the choice programs improved academically. Not a single study found that participating children did worse than their public-school counterparts.

Research even suggests that school choice leads to improvement in public schools. Harvard economist Caroline Hoxby studied the effects of Milwaukee's voucher program and found that it spurred public schools threatened by the competition to improve their performance.

Backers and opponents of the Missouri legislation agree that the vote is too close to call. One positive sign is that it has drawn strong support from Democrats like Rep. Hoskins.

Historically, Democrats opposed school choice initiatives, but a growing number of them, many whose constituents are trapped in the nation's worst public schools, are reconsidering. Democratic state legislators are sponsoring similar legislation in New Jersey and Maryland. In Ohio, State Rep. Dixie Allen, a Democrat, is backing a measure to expand the state's school voucher program. And with the support of several prominent Democrats, Wisconsin lawmakers recently expanded the Milwaukee school voucher program by 50 percent. -- Dan Lips, education analyst at the Heritage Foundation

International pilot communications are conducted in English, regardless of the country. The following exchange occurred at a German airport: A Pan Am 727 flight, waiting for start clearance in Munich, overheard the following: Lufthansa (in German): "Ground, what is our start clearance time?" Ground (in English): "If you want an answer, you must speak in English." Lufthansa (in English): "I am a German, flying a German airplane, in Germany. Why must I speak English?" Unknown voice from another plane (in a beautiful British accent): "Because you lost the bloody war!"

Gary Rust is chairman of Rust Communications.

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