Articles, Opinion Pieces Address Medicare Drug Benefit
Several newspapers recently examined issues related to the new Medicare prescription drug benefit. Summaries appear below.
Philadelphia Inquirer: The Inquirer on Monday examined ongoing confusion over the Medicare prescription drug benefit. According to Richard Stefanacci, executive director of the Health Policy Institute at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, many Medicare beneficiaries continue to question whether they qualify for the prescription drug benefit, and many might not enroll in the program because of confusion (Uhlman, Philadelphia Inquirer, 12/5).
The Hill: The Hill on Tuesday examined the results of an "unscientific" poll on a Volunteer Political Action Committee Web site administered by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) in which respondents had a mixed review of the Medicare prescription drug benefit. According to the poll, 44% of respondents predicted that the Medicare prescription drug benefit will fail, compared with 18% who predicted that the program will succeed and 38% who said that they lacked adequate information to make a prediction. Only 20% of respondents rated Medicare "good," compared with 39% who rated the program "adequate" and 17% who rated the program "poor," the poll found. In addition, 34% of respondents said that they have "too few" choices in health care, and 43% said the federal government should provide less health care than currently provided, according to the poll. The poll, part of a regular feature called the Legislative Priorities Project, included 125 respondents and nine questions (Young, The Hill, 12/6).
San Diego Union-Tribune: The Union-Tribune on Tuesday examined California Medicare beneficiaries' experiences choosing among more than 60 prescription drug plans available under the Medicare drug benefit (Ignezi, San Diego Union-Tribune, 12/6).
- Washington Post: The Post on Tuesday examined the effect of the Medicare prescription drug benefit "doughnut" hole -- a gap in coverage when annual medication costs reach between $2,250 and $5,100 -- on selection of prescription drug plans. Many Medicare beneficiaries who decide to enroll in a prescription drug plan have sought plans with the lowest premiums, but that practice can lead to high out-of-pocket costs some months and low costs other months, according to Leta Blank, director of the Montgomery County Senior Health Insurance Assistance Program. Susan Knight, program director for the Anne Arundel County SHIP, recommends that Medicare beneficiaries with lower annual medical costs select prescription drug plans that cover most or all of their treatments, allow them to use a preferred pharmacy and require the lowest total out-of-pocket payments (Washington Post, 12/6).
Several newspapers also published opinion pieces related to the Medicare prescription drug benefit. Summaries appear below.
- Marie Cocco, Long Island Newsday: Congress did establish the Medicare prescription drug benefit "only for those who need it" because of concerns about the potential loss of "political favor ... from the more vocal middle class," Newsday columnist Cocco writes. According to Cocco, Congress "did not even make it workable for the low-income elderly," as the 2003 Medicare law requires the federal government to assign individuals eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid randomly to a Medicare prescription drug plan "that might not even cover the prescriptions they currently get through Medicaid." Cocco writes that the Medicare prescription drug benefit primarily will benefit health insurers, pharmaceutical companies and "a cottage industry of consultants," adding, "Thank goodness the one group that sought the most gain from the Medicare drug benefit -- Congress -- is likely instead to feel political pain" (Cocco, Long Island Newsday, 12/6).
- John Goodman, Wall Street Journal: The Medicare prescription drug benefit has a number of problems, and "gradually something is beginning to dawn on a lot of Washington insiders": the U.S. is "about to launch an enormously expensive entitlement program, and no one has any idea how we are going to pay for it," Goodman, president of the National Center for Policy Analysis, writes in a Journal opinion piece. According to Goodman, Republican lawmakers consider a repeal of the Medicare prescription drug benefit "tantamount to repealing the president's whole approach to governing." However, based on estimates from some economists that "only $1 in every $16 of the new drug benefit" will "actually buy a drug that would otherwise not have been purchased," Goodman concludes, "If this isn't irrational waste, I don't know what is" (Goodman, Wall Street Journal, 12/6).
- William Rusher, Washington Times: The "plight" of Medicare beneficiaries is "not all that different from what Canadians once suffered" before the Canadian Supreme Court ruled that the government cannot not prohibit the purchase of private health insurance, Rusher, a nationally syndicated columnist, writes in a Times opinion piece. According to Rusher, Jacques Chaoulli, the Canadian physician involved in the case, "points out" that Medicare "is a de facto monopoly" because the program prohibits physicians who accept private payments from elderly patients from participation in Medicare for two years. Rusher adds that Chaoulli believes the "surest road to reform in the United States, as in Canada, is through the courts, rather than the Legislature." Congress "would be tempted to play with the concept," while courts "might reasonably be hoped to see that giving the elderly a freer choice of medical care would be a valuable step on the road to contentment," Rusher says (Rusher, Washington Times, 12/3).