7.2M Medicare Beneficiaries Voluntarily Enrolled in Drug Benefit
About 1.9 million beneficiaries have voluntarily enrolled in the Medicare prescription drug benefit in the last month, bringing the total number of beneficiaries who have voluntarily enrolled since the program began Jan. 1 to 7.2 million, the Bush administration said on Thursday, the AP/Long Island Newsday reports (Freking, AP/Long Island Newsday, 3/24). In total, more than 27 million beneficiaries now have prescription drug coverage, the administration said (Lueck, Wall Street Journal, 3/24).
According to HHS, beneficiaries enrolled in the drug benefit include:
- About 6 million people enrolled in stand-alone prescription drug plans;
- About 5.7 million beneficiaries in Medicare Advantage plans;
- About 5.8 million dual eligibles who were automatically enrolled in the drug benefit and 600,000 enrolled in MA plans with drug coverage;
- About 7.6 million retirees who receive employer-sponsored drug coverage to supplement Medicare drug benefits or who receive drug benefits through unions or former employers that receive a subsidy from Medicare; and
- 3.5 million retirees are enrolled in TRICARE -- the military health program -- or the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program (HHS release, 3/23).
HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt said the administration is "well on the way" to reaching its goal of having 28 million to 30 million beneficiaries with prescription drug coverage this year (Wall Street Journal, 3/24). Leavitt predicted that "[t]here will be a surge at the end" of the enrollment period, which concludes May 15. He said beneficiaries can "avoid that rush by signing up now. We recommend people not wait until the end" (Schuler, CQ Today, 3/23).
CMS Administrator Mark McClellan said there has been "a steady, increasing rate of enrollment" since January (AP/Long Island Newsday, 3/24).
Leavitt added, "We're starting to discuss Medicare version 2.0. We know it needs to be simpler and more streamlined" (CQ Today, 3/23).
In related news, Democrats on the House Government Reform Committee released a report finding that most plans require beneficiaries to obtain prior authorization or try other medications before they can receive coverage for some commonly prescribed drugs, the Journal reports. According to the report, many plans do not provide a complete or accurate description of the restrictions.
It is "nearly impossible for seniors to learn" the specific restrictions "until after they have subscribed and been denied drug access," the report says.
McClellan said many of the restrictions described in the report are the same methods commonly used by private insurers. He said that CMS has not received a large number of complaints about plans failing to disclose information on the restrictions but that the agency would "act promptly" if complaints increase (Wall Street Journal, 3/24).
The report is available online. Note: You will need Adobe Acrobat Reader to view the report.
In other drug benefit news, a survey by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press finds that about 44% of respondents approve of the program, while about 41% disapprove and 15% are undecided. The findings "represent a dwindling of support since December" 2005, when a survey found 45% approved of the drug benefit, 34% disapproved and 21% were undecided, the AP/Newsday reports. The new survey also finds:
- Among respondents ages 18 to 29 -- the most supportive age group -- about 64% approve and 22% disprove; and
- Among respondents 50 to 65 -- the least supportive age group -- about 40% approve and 44% disapprove (AP/Long Island Newsday, 3/24).
Meanwhile, AARP is launching an advertising campaign to educate beneficiaries about the drug benefit, especially about financial assistance programs for low-income beneficiaries, CQ HealthBeat reports. AARP sponsors the Medicare Rx Plan, which is administered by UnitedHealth Group.
AARP CEO Bill Novelli in a news release said the drug benefit is "especially helpful to beneficiaries with high drug costs or who have limited incomes" (CQ HealthBeat, 3/22). He added, "The focus right now needs to be on helping people, not playing politics. Discouraging enrollment is a disservice to the millions who could be saving money on prescription drug bills" (CQ Today, 3/23).
NPR's "Day to Day" on Thursday reported on Bush's decision not to delay the deadline to enroll in the Medicare prescription drug benefit. The segment includes comments from Bush; Karen Ignagni, president and CEO of America's Health Insurance Plans; Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.); and family members of Medicare beneficiaries struggling with enrollment (Rovner, "Day to Day," NPR, 3/23).
A transcript of the segment is available online. The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.
KPCC's "KPCC News" on Wednesday reported on McClellan's participation in a forum in Whittier for about 60 Medicare beneficiaries on the prescription drug program sponsored by Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.). The segment includes comments from Sanchez, counselors who assisted the beneficiaries in selecting a drug plan and Medicare beneficiaries (Baer, "KPCC News," KPCC, 3/22).
The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.