Bush Administration Begins National Campaign for Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit
In the first four stops of the Bush administration's national campaign to promote the new Medicare drug benefit, officials encountered "skepticism" from some beneficiaries, the New York Times reports. Last week, CMS Administrator Mark McClellan, Surgeon General Richard Carmona, CDC Director Julie Gerberding and NIH Director Elias Zerhouni visited Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. This week, they will visit Chicago, Milwaukee, Cincinnati and Dayton, Ohio. According to the Times, the officials -- who call themselves the "four docs" -- hope their tour will help educate consumers and prompt community groups to assist in the promotional effort.
Speaking in Scarborough, Maine, on July 15, the officials emphasized that the typical Medicare beneficiary will receive $1,300 annually to help with drug costs under the new benefit, and low-income beneficiaries will receive additional aid. McClellan said, "What matters most is not what happens in Washington, but what happens all over the country as people make decisions about their health care and prescription drug coverage." Reaction to the officials' visit was mixed, the Times reports.
Consumers expressed skepticism about the value of the new benefit, with some healthy beneficiaries saying they did not need the new coverage and some ill beneficiaries saying the benefit will be inadequate. Meanwhile, Carol Rancourt, coordinator of health insurance counseling at the Southern Maine Agency on Aging, said, "My biggest fear is that people will be confused by the large number of options, will be shocked into inertia and will just do nothing."
Jude Walsh, an adviser to Maine Gov. John Baldacci (D), said, "This is not the drug benefit we would have designed. But we have no choice. It's coming, whether we want it or not. We are trying to make it work for vulnerable people in the state of Maine" (Pear, New York Times, 7/17).
In related news, the Bergen Record on Sunday examined how different business sectors will be affected by the Medicare prescription drug benefit. According to the Record, the "prime players" in the new drug benefit -- including health insurers, pharmacy benefit managers, pharmacies, prescription drug manufacturers and employers -- are "gearing up to make the most" of the new benefit before it begins officially on Jan. 1, 2006.
According to some analysts, health insurers, which will be the primary providers of the new coverage, could benefit the most from the coverage because Medicare beneficiaries represent one of the few areas for managed care growth. PBMs, which will administer the drug benefit, are expected to increase their "clout" by bringing in new members through the expanded coverage, the Record reports. Meanwhile, pharmacies also are expected to benefit from the influx of new customers who previously did not have prescription drug coverage and who likely will purchase other products at stores once they are drawn in for their medications.
Pharmaceutical companies expect to see an increase in sales resulting from the Medicare drug benefit, although some analysts say the companies will have to make tradeoffs in drug pricing in order to win approval for drug plans' formularies. Finally, employers that already offer retiree prescription drug coverage will benefit from a federal subsidy intended to persuade businesses to retain such coverage. However, Sam Fleet, president of National Employee Benefit -- a benefit administrator and consulting firm -- said the administrative burden and resulting cost of applying for the subsidy could outweigh its value for some businesses (Krauskopf, Bergen Record, 7/17).
Additional information on the Medicare drug benefit is available online.