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Experts warn of Medicare drug plan problem

WASHINGTON, April 8 (UPI) -- Two former heads of the Medicare program Thursday warned implementing the new prescription drug benefit by January 2006 was an immense challenge.

Gail Wilensky, who ran Medicare in the administration of George H.W. Bush, and Nancy-Ann Min DeParle, who ran the program in the Clinton Administration, told the Senate Government Management Subcommittee that contingency plans should be developed in case the congressionally mandated deadline is not met.

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They both cited continuing "brain drain" from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which oversees the program, with an estimated 30 percent of its senior career employees eligible for retirement and a quarter of the agency's career executives having left in the last three years.

Michael McMullan, a career employee of the agency, told the committee implementing the new law requires expertise the office is currently lacking in areas like pharmacy benefits management and the information technology arena.

McMullan oversees the implementation of the new drug discount card program that will predate implementation of full prescription drug benefits.

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