Bush Promotes Medicare Drug Benefit
President Bush on Tuesday met with Medicare beneficiaries and providers in Jefferson City, Mo., and Des Moines, Iowa, to promote the prescription drug benefit and encourage beneficiaries to sign up before the May 15 enrollment deadline, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.
Speaking to a group of several hundred beneficiaries in Jefferson City, Bush called the drug benefit "a good deal" and encouraged beneficiaries to consider enrollment. "It doesn't cost a dime to look, and you'll save money," he said (Rivoli, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 4/11). Bush acknowledged "glitches" with the program but said beneficiaries who have enrolled are seeing significant savings on prescription drug costs (Dinan, Washington Times, 4/12).
"I'm here to cut through all the politics and cut through all the rhetoric and help people understand what's available," he said (Pickler, AP/Boston Globe, 4/12).
Bush's appearances Tuesday sought to boost enrollment and also "enhance the benefit's popularity with crucial older voters," the New York Times reports.
Phil Singer, a spokesperson for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said Republicans are "trying to recreate reality" about the drug benefit (Rutenberg, New York Times, 4/12).
Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) said the drug benefit "has more than 'glitches,'" adding that it is "fundamentally flawed" because private insurers are administering the drug plans (Washington Times, 4/12).
USA Today on Wednesday examined how few beneficiaries are experiencing problems obtaining needed medications after the end of a 90-day transitional coverage period (Wolf, USA Today, 4/12).
CMS required private health plans administering the Medicare prescription drug benefit to cover all necessary and existing prescriptions for beneficiaries for 90 days after the start of the drug benefit on Jan. 1. The transitional period expired March 31, and some advocates have expressed concerns that beneficiaries might not know of the change and could experience problems obtaining medications as a result (California Healthline, 3/31).
According to USA Today, some beneficiaries have had claims denied since the transition period ended, but "[t]he problems have not been widespread."
John Rother, policy director for AARP, said, "Right now, it seems to be relatively quiet. For [enrolled beneficiaries], it's actually working."
Tom Clark, director of policy and advocacy for the American Society of Consultant Pharmacists, said pharmacists "didn't see massive problems all at once the way we did Jan. 1."
The reduction in problems is due in part to insurers being "more lenient" in covering medications during the end of the transition period, USA Today reports. For example, UnitedHealth Group has extended transitional coverage through mid-April or May for most drugs, while Aetna is allowing patients on certain treatments for cancer, heart disease and depression to retain coverage for their current medications (USA Today, 4/12).
Copayments, formularies and restrictions on covered drugs vary widely among Medicare drug plans, according to a study released Tuesday by the Kaiser Family Foundation, Wall Street Journal online reports (Rubenstein, Wall Street Journal Online, 4/12).
The study -- by Jack Hoadley of Georgetown University, Elizabeth Hargrave of the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, and Juliette Cubanski and Tricia Neuman of the Kaiser Family Foundation -- examined formularies, drug costs and utilization management tools in drug plans offered by 14 organizations. The organizations offer 35 unique prescription drug plans, accounting for 1,222 of the 1,429 packages available to Medicare beneficiaries (Kaiser Family Foundation release, 4/11).
The study examines coverage of 152 generic and brand-name drugs under the 35 drug plans. According to the study, plans covered as few as 64% and as many as 97% of the medications, with an average of 81% (USA Today, 4/12).
Eighteen of the 35 plans covered each of the top 10 brand-name drugs, and 32 plans covered each of the top 10 generic drugs, according to the study (Wall Street Journal Online, 4/12). Copays also varied widely, the study finds.
For example, copays for the blood pressure medication Norvasc range from $15 to $62 per prescription, the study says (USA Today, 4/12).
Two newspapers on Wednesday published articles examining the impact of the upcoming enrollment deadline. Beneficiaries who enroll after May 15 will have to pay penalties in the form of higher premiums. Summaries of the articles appear below.
Baltimore Sun: The article examined beneficiaries' enrollment decisions as the deadline approaches. According to the Sun, whether enrollment numbers "are deemed a success or a failure seems to depend on whether the person offering the evaluation was for or against the way the program was structured" (Salganik, Baltimore Sun, 4/12).
- Christian Science Monitor: The article examined how some beneficiaries are confused by the wide variety of plans available under the drug benefit. "While the American economy is based on the idea of offering consumers choices, researchers have found that having too many options can be a paralyzing, instead of liberating, experience," the Monitor reports.
NPR's "Morning Edition" on Wednesday included an interview with David Greene, NPR White House correspondent who traveled with Bush on Tuesday, about efforts by the president to promote the Medicare prescription drug benefit before the enrollment deadline (Montagne, "Morning Edition," NPR, 4/12).
The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.
KPBS' "KPBS News" on Tuesday reported on the study. The segment includes comments from Tricia Neuman, a Kaiser Family Foundation vice president and director of its Medicare Policy Project (Goldberg, "KPBS News," KPBS, 4/11). The complete transcript is available online.
The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.