The Medicare Part D prescription-drug benefit is a revolutionary government program that bucked the trend of government bloat and failure. By introducing real consumer choice and competition it not only came in under budget, but it expanded drug treatment and lessened chronic medical conditions among seniors and associated acute care expenses. Millions of Louisiana’s seniors have benefited from this important program.

But much of that progress could be undone if the government does not take swift action to restore real competition and consumer choice to the Medicare prescription-drug program. Usually, the government ensures real competition is maintained by making sure that small businesses are given genuine opportunity to compete for federal contracts. Otherwise, the big government contractors fleece the government for billions of dollars.

But the Medicare Part D program was given a complete pass on those small business rules. Why? The only reason we can think of is to protect the big pharmacy-network monopolies, sweetheart deals and windfall profits.

And because small pharmacies are now effectively excluded from the Part D program, the top four huge pharmacy-benefit managers, who themselves either control or are controlled by the pharmacies that fill the prescriptions, now control 79 percent of the Part D program. This has led to anti-competitive practices that, if practiced in any other part of the Medicare system, would be considered illegal Medicare fraud.

With his likely appointment as chairman of the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, and more than 700,000 Medicare beneficiaries in Louisiana, U.S. Sen. David Vitter has a fantastic opportunity to improve pharmacy competition and access for residents of Louisiana and the country.

We at the 60 Plus Association — a nonpartisan seniors advocacy group with a free-enterprise, less-government, lower-taxes approach to seniors issues — recently partnered with the innovative pharmacy industry association, AccessRx America. AccessRx America has presented a compelling case for how real competition can only be restored to Medicare by allowing full access to the small chain, community and independent pharmacies that make up more than a third of all of America’s pharmacies.

We urge Sen. Vitter to make use of what is likely to be his new role leading the Senate Small Business Committee to ensure small pharmacies can compete in the Part D market. If the election results last month taught Washington anything, it’s that supporting narrow and costly health care choices, aka “Obamacare,” can be costly to a politician’s career. Seniors were a powerful voting bloc in the political wave, and were forceful in stating they want choice with regard to their health care options and keeping their doctor, a preference that magnifies the importance of getting Part D right.

Jim Martin

chairman, 60 Plus Association

Alexandria, Virginia