CMS Updated Online Drug Plan Tool
CMS on Friday launched a revised "Drug Plan Finder" on the Medicare Web site to help beneficiaries compare 2007 Medicare prescription drug plans, CQ HealthBeat reports. Former CMS Administrator Mark McClellan, whose final day in office was Saturday, said the online tool as of Friday included cost and coverage information on 95% of Medicare drug plans and that by Monday it would include information on the remaining 5% of plans.
McClellan said the tool includes several improvements made since last year, including a feature designed to help beneficiaries determine monthly costs (Carey, CQ HealthBeat, 10/13). The feature will allow beneficiaries to create a monthly cost chart for each plan, which "could help seniors determine when they will enter the coverage gap," according to the Miami Herald.
In addition, beneficiaries can use the tool to sort plans based on factors that are most important to them, such as monthly premiums, pharmacy locations, formularies or coverage during the doughnut hole (Hatcher, Miami Herald, 10/14).
HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt said, "In 2007 there will be more plans, ... more drugs covered and more help from Medicare." However, some senior advocates say the 2007 drug benefit "could be as confusing as it was last year," Long Island Newsday reports.
Deane Beebe, a spokesperson for the Medicare Rights Center, said all beneficiaries should check their plans for changes to prices and coverage. "Assume nothing," Beebe said, noting that some plans will have higher premiums and different benefits in 2007.
The doughnut hole coverage gap also will change in 2007. Under the 2007 doughnut hole provision, beneficiaries will be responsible for 100% of prescription drug costs between $2,400 and $5,451.25. The gap for 2006 was from $2,250 to $5,100 (Ochs, Long Island Newsday, 10/16).
In related news, CMS on Friday released an analysis finding that beneficiaries enrolled in Medicare stand-along prescription drug plans will save an average of 53% compared with individuals who do not have prescription drug coverage. The analysis examines prices for the most common treatments taken by beneficiaries for conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and heart failure.
According to CMS, beneficiaries enrolled in the lowest-priced plans will save up to 68%. Beneficiaries enrolled in the lowest-priced plans who use generic drugs could save up to 87% off brand-name drug prices, CMS said.
Meanwhile, the Medicare Rights Center and California Health Advocates released a report stating that CMS should require Medicare drug plans to provide "timely and accurate" responses to beneficiaries' questions about the drug coverage. The report also urges CMS to provide Medicare drug plans with detailed requirements for customer service representatives.
CMS spokesperson Jeff Nelligan said the agency closely monitors Medicare drug plans and issues compliance letters as necessary.
A separate study by Families USA finds that Medicare is overpaying insurance companies and drug makers for products and services that Medicare could administer directly for a much lower cost. According to the study, Medicare Advantage plans cost taxpayers an additional $2.7 billion in 2005 and $4.6 billion in 2006 (CQ HealthBeat, 10/13).