Bush pushes program

By Deb Riechmann The Associated Press

DUBLIN – President Bush, in a state with key races in this year’s midterm elections, countered critics on yesterday who say health savings accounts don’t help the poor or the uninsured.

Enrollment in health savings accounts has tripled during the past 10 months, the president said at the headquarters of Wendy’s, where 9,000 employees have signed up for the accounts since the company began offering them last year.

The president also acknowledged startup problems with the Medicare prescription drug plan.

In recent weeks, some of the poorest beneficiaries had trouble getting their medicine and were charged more than what they paid under Medicaid.

Dozens of states were forced to step in to help pay for their medicine on an emergency basis.

About 43 million people are eligible for the benefit. Bush said 24 million have signed up, but a large majority were automatically enrolled because of their participation in other programs, such as Medicaid. About 3.6 million people have voluntarily enrolled.

“When you’ve got that big a shift, you can imagine there’s going to be glitches, but by far, the vast majority of people are signed up to a program that’s making a big difference in their lives,” Bush said.

In pushing health savings accounts, Bush said people will become more responsible shoppers because they’ll pay more of the initial costs of their health care.

He joked that it might be a good idea for people also to choose salads more often than triple-patty hamburgers at Wendy’s.

To open one of the accounts, a consumer must first buy a high-deductible insurance policy that requires an individual to pay at least $1,050 in medical expenses before the insurance would kick in; families would have to pay the first $2,100. Some policies carry higher deductibles.