Advocates Call for Eased Access to Medicare Prescription Drug Discount Cards
The AP/Las Vegas Sun on Tuesday looked at several advocacy organizations' suggestions on improving low-income beneficiaries' access to the Medicare prescription drug discount cards (Sherman, AP/Las Vegas Sun, 4/13). As part of the new Medicare law, prescription drug discount cards will be available beginning in May to all beneficiaries who do not have prescription drug coverage through Medicaid. The cards could offer savings of about 10% to 25% on beneficiaries' prescription drug costs until the new prescription drug benefit takes effect in 2006. Companies offering the cards can charge an annual enrollment fee of up to $30 and likely will offer savings on at least one drug in each of 209 categories of medicines commonly used by Medicare beneficiaries. HHS in March approved 28 private companies to offer 49 different discount cards to Medicare beneficiaries. Under the discount program, beneficiaries with annual incomes less than $12,569 per year for individuals or $16,862 for couples will be eligible for a $600 annual subsidy for their prescription drug costs and will not have to pay any enrollment fees (California Healthline, 4/1). The Bush administration estimates that about 60% of eligible low-income beneficiaries will enroll for the card benefit, but some senior advocates and state officials call that estimate "optimistic," according to the AP/Sun. Tom Snedden, director of Pennsylvania's Pharmaceutical Assistance Contract for the Elderly program, said the projection is "pretty high, given the relatively short startup time and longevity of the program." Several advocacy groups, including AARP, are pressing for a universal, standardized enrollment form. AARP Associate Director Mariette Klein said, "I would love to see one enrollment form, not 28," adding, "I would love to see it a lot simpler, because it is going to put a burden on older people to try to figure out how to do this." CMS Administrator Mark McClellan said the agency does not plan to standardize the form, adding that program officials are looking into allowing some method of automatic enrollment (Sherman, AP/Las Vegas Sun, 4/13).
In related news, Novartis on Tuesday announced plans to offer some prescription drugs to low-income Medicare beneficiaries at no cost, Reuters/Boston Globe reports. The company will offer drugs including hypertension treatments Diovan and Lotrel under its program, according to Paulo Costa, president and CEO of Novartis' U.S. pharmaceutical division. "There is a lot of undertreatment in this population ... it is a huge area of opportunity," Costa said. Chris Hansen, associate executive director of AARP, called the offer "meaningful." However, some advocates are skeptical of the company's motives, saying the offer is a marketing technique rather than a philanthropic offer. "It's a good marketing tool to build brand loyalty," Diane Archer, founder of the Medicare Rights Center, said, adding, "People tend to stay with drugs they start with" (Reuters/Boston Globe 4/14).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.