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Senate Democrats Present Comprehensive Katrina Relief Plan

Senator Reid : We Must Get People the Help They Need

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On Monday, September 5, 2005, Senate Democratic leadership released the following comprehensive relief plan for survivors of Hurricane Katrina.

Said Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid in introducing this detailed plan, "Our response to the tragedy of September 2005 must be every bit as bipartisan and direct as the tragedy of September 2001. We didn’t handle 9/11 with a Democratic or Republican aid package, and we shouldn’t handle this crisis any differently. This is not the time for partisanship. The victims of this terrible tragedy must come first.

With that principle guiding us, it is important that we begin to consider our next steps. The $10.5 billion we’re sending now represents a good first effort, but we all know much more needs to be done....

We’ve all seen the images of families stranded at the Superdome or sitting outside the convention center. They don’t have food. They don’t have water. They don’t have medicine. They’re living in unsanitary conditions, and because we can’t keep the area safe, they’ve been unable to get out. That is unacceptable.

This is America. These are Americans we see suffering. We must find ways to get them the resources they need and bring them to safety. We must restore security, accelerate our rescue operations and expedite our relief efforts as soon as possible. We must get these people the help they need.

When we reconvene on Tuesday, the security and safety of the Gulf Coast residents must be our first order of business. These families are counting on us. They are suffering, and they have no where else to turn. We owe it to them to make their survival our top priority, and we should give them nothing less."
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The Senate Democratic leadership's press release, describing its comprehensive relief plan for Katrina survivors:

Although the Congress last week appropriated $10.5 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Defense Department, it is clear much more will be needed given the enormity of this disaster. While government authorities and others assess the scope of the problem and decide how much additional funding will be needed to address specific problems, there are a number of legislative items the Senate can and should promptly approve that can help Katrina’s victims.

After the Senate has completed action on this emergency legislation, we hope the Senate will quickly provide significant new funding, and consider other substantive proposals that could help address short- and medium-term needs. These proposals must be followed by a much broader, long-term effort to rebuild and rehabilitate the Gulf Coast region and substantially improve efforts to prevent, mitigate and respond to future disasters.

The following are just some examples of proposals that Senate Democrats believe deserve immediate Senate action this week:

Ensuring health care for all displaced victims

* Immediate access to Medicaid for displaced victims.
* No need to prove residency or assets
* No copayments
* No penalties for failing to sign up for Medicare Part B in time.

To ensure access to medical care, we should ensure immediate access to Medicaid for displaced victims. Paperwork requirements should be streamlined and asset requirements waived to ensure that victims, many of whom have no legal documents in their possession, can enroll in the program with little red tape. Residency requirements for participation should not apply to these victims to allow them to obtain health care services around the country.

In addition, copayments should be waived for these people as they struggle to meet other needs as well. The Federal government should bear the full cost of these changes, and ensure that no affected state suffers a reduction in Federal Medicaid funding (their “match rate”) for other populations. This proposal is based on a similar successful initiative after the September 11 disaster.

We also should provide compensation to health care providers who provide a disproportionate share of the care for these victims.

Displaced victims should not be penalized for late enrollment in Medicare Part B because they have become newly-eligible or have lost coverage from another plan during this time. Similarly, everyone from the affected states should have an additional year to enroll in the new Medicare drug benefit and its low income subsidies.

The automatic transition of dual eligible beneficiaries from Medicaid to Medicare drug coverage should be delayed in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, with the Federal government bearing the full cost of those people continuing Medicaid drug coverage.

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