Democratic Lawmakers’ Studies Show Medicare Prescription Drug Discount Cards Offer Little Savings
House Democrats issued two reports this week analyzing the potential savings offered through the new Medicare prescription drug discount card program, Long Island Newsday reports (Mackeen, Long Island Newsday, 7/15). HHS has said the cards offer beneficiaries average savings of about 11% to 18% on brand-name drugs and 37% to 65% on generic drugs (Wood, Annapolis Capital, 7/13). CMS figures show that so far, the program has enrolled about 3.8 million Medicare beneficiaries, most of whom were signed up automatically.
Democrats in the House Committee on Government Reform on Wednesday issued a report that found that Medicare beneficiaries in Nassau County, N.Y., could save more on prescription drugs by purchasing their medications from Canada or through the Department of Veterans Affairs, Long Island Newsday reports. The report analyzed discounts offered by the 34 different cards available in Nassau County. According to the report, a 30-day supply of the arthritis medication Celebrex costs $38.69 in Canada, compared with $74.14 through the Medicare drug cards. Likewise, the acid reflux medication Protonix costs $44.31 through the VA drug benefit, compared with $68.71 through the Medicare drug card program. According to the report, beneficiaries who purchase their medications online pay about the same price as they would using the Medicare cards. Beneficiaries who save the most through the Medicare discount program are those with low incomes who do not have to pay the annual fee of up to $30 for the card and who qualify for a $600 subsidy to help with drug purchases, the report said. Peter Ashkenaz, a CMS spokesperson, said that the Medicare cards are "showing real savings," adding that the report primarily focused on prices available through mail-order pharmacies, even though "most seniors prefer to buy their drugs at their neighborhood drug store" (Mackeen, Long Island Newsday, 7/15).
A second study by Rep. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.) also found that the Medicare cards "aren't all they're cracked up to be," the Annapolis Capital reports. The study examined prices for 10 drugs commonly prescribed to seniors, including Celebrex, Lipitor, Prevacid and Zocor. The study examined the average price for each drug among the 33 different Medicare drug cards available in Maryland, finding that a one-month supply of all 10 drugs totaled an average of $945.84. By comparison, the cost of the same drugs purchased through Drugstore.com would be $958.90, a "negligible" savings of about 1%, Cardin said. In Canada, the drugs would have cost $595.93 and through the VA they would have cost $586.97. "The discount card is not doing it," Cardin said. The Capital reports that Cardin supports a "VA-style system of bulk buying for Medicare" and has introduced a bill (HR 3702) to alter the new Medicare law. Phil Blando, a spokesperson for the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association, said that Cardin's study "paints an incomplete picture" because it does not account for the savings available through use of generic drugs and mail-order systems (Annapolis Capital, 7/13).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.