Beginning of Open Enrollment Raises Issues
Several newspapers recently published articles on issues related to the Medicare prescription drug benefit. The open enrollment period for the 2007 Medicare prescription drug plan year began on Nov. 15 and will end on Dec. 31. Summaries of the articles appear below.
- AP/Cleveland Plain Dealer: CMS officials have recommended that Medicare beneficiaries examine their prescription drug plans for any changes for the 2007 plan year. In a speech to directors of state Medicaid programs, HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt said that the first year of the Medicare prescription drug benefit "was a rigorous experience for all of us," adding that "we have succeeded" (Freking, AP/Cleveland Plain Dealer, 11/15).
Chicago Tribune: More Medicare prescription drug plans are available to Illinois beneficiaries for the 2007 plan year than in 2006. According to advocates, Medicare beneficiaries currently enrolled in prescription drug plans should monitor their mail for information from health insurers about any changes for the 2007 plan year. Medicare beneficiaries also should examine prescription drug plan coverage options during the so-called "doughnut hole" because some plans cover only generic medications during the coverage gap, according to advocates (Graham, Chicago Tribune, 11/16).
Dow Jones: Dow Jones on Wednesday provided recommendations to Medicare beneficiaries on the selection of prescription drug plans for the 2007 plan year. Medicare beneficiaries should consider the medications they take and compare prescription drug plans based on formularies and preferred pharmacy networks. According to the article, "even those happy with their current plans would be wise to take a look at the offerings" (Gerencher, Dow Jones, 11/15).
- Newark Star-Ledger: Changes have been made to the standard Medicare prescription drug benefit for 2007. Under the doughnut hole in 2006, Medicare beneficiaries are responsible for 100% of their annual medication costs between $2,250 and $5,100. In 2007, the doughnut hole will begin when annual medication costs reach $2,400 and end when total out-of-pocket spending reaches $3,850. In addition, the standard deductible for Medicare prescription drug plans in 2007 will increase by $15 to $265. CMS spokesperson Jeff Hall said that some Medicare prescription plans in the 2007 plan year will not require beneficiaries to pay deductibles and will offer coverage during the doughnut hole (Campbell, Newark Star-Ledger, 11/16).
Newspapers recently published three opinion pieces and an editorial on the Medicare prescription drug benefit. Summaries appear below.
- Marie Cocco, Bergen Record: The Medicare prescription drug benefit "rips off taxpayers so thoroughly, and so inventively, that lawmakers shouldn't be rushing to fix the plan" -- they "should be determined to scrap it," columnist Cocco writes in a Record opinion piece. She adds, "They can replace it with something better -- that is, a plain and simple drug benefit delivered by plain and simple Medicare." Medicare beneficiaries "would likely flock to a drug benefit administered by traditional fee-for-service Medicare," Cocco writes, adding, "It's easier for them" and "cheaper for us." According to Cocco, "This would solve the question -- raised, legitimately, by the Bush administration and Democrats alike -- of how on earth the government would actually go about negotiating with drug companies on behalf of hundreds of private insurance plans" (Cocco, Bergen Record, 11/16).
Newport News Daily Press: Most of the information about enrollment in the Medicare prescription drug benefit appears online, which is "a problem because seniors are the least likely of all people to have Internet access or be comfortable doing business over the Web," a Daily Press editorial states. In addition, enrollment in the Medicare prescription drug benefit requires beneficiaries to "sort through dozens of plans, each with an array of variables," the editorial states. According to the editorial, Medicare beneficiaries currently enrolled in prescription drug plans also have to "shop around" because the "plan they're satisfied with now may be different next year, as many are making significant changes in costs and coverage" (Newport News Daily Press, 11/15).
- Edward Lotterman, St. Paul Pioneer Press: The provision in the 2003 Medicare law under which Medicare cannot directly negotiate with pharmaceutical companies for discounts on prescription drugs "seemed to be a straightforward case of political influence-buying" on the part of the pharmaceutical industry and Republican lawmakers, Lotterman, an economist and Pioneer Press columnist, writes in an opinion piece. He adds, "There certainly was no popular demand for such a ban, and no member of Congress offered an articulate exposition of the principles behind it." He concludes, "We may gain much from repealing the ban on bargaining with drug firms, and any costs need not be serious or irreversible. It is an experiment that is worth trying" (Lotterman, St. Paul Pioneer Press, 11/16).
- Alberto Mingardi, Washington Post: A proposal from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who likely will become House speaker in the new Congress, "would create a Medicare drug program that looks a lot like the system we have in my country, Italy, where drug prices are among the lowest in Europe," Mingardi, director of the Instituto Bruno Leoni, writes in a Post opinion piece. "At first glance, this might seem an enviable model for America to follow, but Italy is hardly a health care paradise," according to Mingardi. "In fact, it's more like a quagmire of red tape," Mingardi writes, adding, "Italy's lower drug prices are the product of government price controls," which "artificially" reduce prices and increase demand. He concludes, "In their rush to revamp Medicare, U.S. policy leaders should be careful not to make the same mistake," as Italian officials (Mingardi, Washington Post, 11/16).
Several broadcast programs reported recently on the Medicare Part D enrollment period:
- ABCNews' "World News Tonight": The segment includes comments from Acting CMS Administrator Leslie Norwalk; Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA; Medicare beneficiaries and counselors assisting Medicare beneficiaries in selecting plans (Stark, "World News Tonight," ABCNews, 11/15). A related ABCNews story is available online.
- APM's "Marketplace Morning Report": The segment includes comments from Todd Cooperman of MedicareDrugPlans.com (Palmer, "Marketplace," APM, 11/15). A transcript and audio of the segment are available online.
- KPCC's "KPCC News": The segment examines the challenges of enrollment for beneficiaries speaking foreign languages and includes comments from Aileen Harper, executive director of the Center for Health Care Rights, which offers translation and counseling on health care issues at no cost; Antronette Yancey, co-director of UCLA's Center to Eliminate Health Disparities; and Medicare beneficiaries who do not speak English (Nazario, "KPCC News," KPCC, 11/15). Audio of the segment is available online.
- NPR's "All Things Considered": The segment includes comments from Robert Hayes, president of the Medicare Rights Center; HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt; and Tricia Neuman, a Kaiser Family Foundation vice president and director of the Medicare Policy Project at the foundation (Rovner, "All Things Considered," NPR, 11/15). A transcript and audio of the segment are available online.