Companies Launch Marketing Efforts for Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit
Companies offering prescription drug coverage under the new Medicare drug benefit began marketing their plans on Saturday, the Baltimore Sun reports (Salganik, Baltimore Sun, 10/1). CMS in September announced that 10 companies had been approved to offer stand-alone prescription drug plans through Medicare on a nationwide basis, and Medicare beneficiaries in all regions of the U.S. would have their choice of several prescription drug plans. Plan providers legally could begin marketing their offerings -- and release details on plan specifics -- on Saturday, with enrollment scheduled to begin on Nov. 15 (California Healthline, 9/26).
According to Jacqueline Kosecoff, an executive vice president at PacifiCare, although 42 million Medicare beneficiaries are eligible for the new coverage, plan providers will target their marketing efforts toward "a very specific group" of about 13 million beneficiaries who have no drug coverage and whose annual incomes are too high for them to be automatically enrolled in a drug plan (Freudenheim, New York Times, 10/3). Companies acknowledge that beneficiaries could be confused by the large number of plans available to them and say "much of their effort will be devoted to educating seniors about how the benefit works rather than pushing their particular plans," the Sun reports. Plan providers are using a number of media to advertise their products, including mailings, telemarketing and print and broadcast advertising (Baltimore Sun, 10/1).
In addition, some pharmacies are scheduling "Medicare days" to invite customers to discuss the benefit with pharmacists and establishing kiosks with brochures from different plans (New York Times, 10/3). According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, promotional efforts must adhere to a number of rules. For example, companies cannot solicit beneficiaries door to door, though they can make cold calls. In addition, companies cannot use actors posing as Medicare beneficiaries to advertise plans, nor can they use health care professionals to urge enrollment in a certain plan. Companies will be monitored to ensure the rules are followed, according to the Inquirer (Pugh, Philadelphia Inquirer, 10/1).
Several newspapers over the weekend published articles related to the launch of marketing for the drug benefit. Headlines appear below.
- "Insurers Court Elderly for Medicare Plan" (Freking, AP/Las Vegas Sun, 10/1).
- "Medicare's Big Pitch" (Graham/Japsen, Chicago Tribune, 10/2).
- "Drug Plan for Seniors Detailed" (Avalos, Fresno Bee, 10/1).
- "Blitz for Drug Plan To Start Today" (Vrana, Los Angeles Times, 10/1).
- "Drug Plans in Medicare Start Effort on Marketing" (Pear, New York Times, 10/1).
- "Mass Marketing of New Medicare Drug Plans Begins" (Vesely, Oakland Tribune, 10/1).
- "Medicare Releases Drug Plan Details" (Shelton, Orlando Sentinel, 10/1).
- "Medicare's Drug Benefit Explained" (Colliver, San Francisco Chronicle, 10/2).
- "Your Guide To New Medicare Drug Plan" (Sevrens Lyons, San Jose Mercury News, 10/1).
- "Prescription for Chaos Seen in Drug Ads" (Skidmore, San Diego Union-Tribune, 10/1).
- "Medicare Drug Plan Details Released" (Lueck, Wall Street Journal, 10/1).
All beneficiaries in traditional, fee-for-service Medicare will have access to a prescription drug plan that fills the so-called "doughnut hole" in coverage, in which the beneficiary is responsible for 100% of drug costs between $2,250 and $5,100 in out-of-pocket spending, CMS Administrator Mark McClellan said Friday. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation study released last year, 25% of Medicare beneficiaries in 2006 will have prescription drug spending that is high enough for them to reach the $2,250 threshold. Although all beneficiaries will have access to plans that help cover their costs in the coverage gap, "there are tradeoffs involved," CQ HealthBeat reports.
For example, plans that help cover the gap generally will charge premiums of $50 to $60 per month, McClellan said. Such plans also could include additional out-of-pocket costs. McClellan also said that 70% of Medicare beneficiaries will have access to a Medicare Advantage plan that does not charge a premium. CMS spokesperson Gary Karr added that in some local markets, MA plans will charge no premium and will provide coverage for the doughnut hole. "Everyone in Medicare, no matter what their income or how they get their health care, can choose coverage that reflects what they want, including lower cost, more complete coverage and convenient access," McClellan said (CQ HealthBeat, 9/30).
The Medicare prescription drug benefit should begin as planned on Jan. 1, 2006, but Congress must "plan for the future by finding the money to pay for the program" because "[h]ealth care should not be the first casualty of out-of-control budgeting," a New York Times editorial states. According to the Times, in the current fiscal climate -- which includes costs related to "Hurricane Katrina, the war in Iraq, heedless pork barrel spending and stupendously reckless tax cuts, there is no fiscally responsible way to proceed" with the Medicare drug benefit.
"Our own priority -- and we suspect that of the overwhelming majority of Americans -- would be to start the drug program as planned on Jan. 1, restrict transportation spending to genuine priorities and, most important, eliminate the indefensible tax cuts for Americans with high incomes," the Times states (New York Times, 10/2).
Additional information on the Medicare drug benefit is available online.