Educational Efforts on Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit From Insurers, Pharmacies Questioned
Health insurers and pharmacies that have launched "educational campaigns" to instruct Medicare beneficiaries about the new prescription drug benefit are coming under fire from some critics who say the efforts violate Medicare marketing rules prohibiting promotion of specific drug plans before October, the Chicago Tribune reports (Japsen, Chicago Tribune, 8/1). Health insurers and others that plan to offer Medicare prescription drug plans cannot begin to promote them until Oct. 1.
However, Humana has launched an educational campaign about the Medicare prescription drug benefit. As part of the campaign, Humana, which plans to offer a Medicare prescription drug plan, has established booths with educational materials on the prescription drug benefit in 500 Wal-Mart stores nationwide. In addition, UnitedHealth Group has launched an educational campaign with a 24-page guide to the Medicare prescription benefit that the company will distribute through pharmacies nationwide. UnitedHealth has partnered with Walgreen, CVS, Rite Aid, Brooks, Eckerd and Target to distribute the guide. In addition, a spokesperson for WellPoint recently said that the company will launch an educational campaign on the Medicare prescription drug benefit in the near future (California Healthline, 7/20).
Critics say the insurers are using the efforts to "get a leg up" on the new drug benefit by distributing informational materials on the benefit that are "stamp[ed]" with company names and logos, according to the Tribune. "The companies are calling it educational outreach, but I call it premarketing because the health plans and pharmacies obviously are trying to get their foot in the door to attract the attention of seniors," Lynda DeLaforgue, co-director of Citizen Action Illinois, said.
The insurers and pharmacies say they are not violating Medicare's marketing rules because the educational materials do not include product- or plan-specific information. They add that the Bush administration has encouraged insurers to help educate Medicare beneficiaries about the new benefit to avoid confusion and lack of awareness. "We have been encouraged by CMS to do this, ... and a lot of times our representatives are side-by-side with representatives from the Social Security Administration,"
Rob Hitchcock, regional president for Humana's Upper Midwest senior segment, said. He added, "We have to put our logo on so seniors understand that it is Humana and not CMS." A CMS spokesperson said the Bush administration will not prohibit the educational campaigns as long as the materials "avoid discussing product-specific or plan-specific benefits" (Chicago Tribune, 8/1).
Meanwhile, Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) said that U.S. residents should "be on their toes" with respect to House Republican leaders' efforts to persuade Republican lobbyists to help the party promote the new Medicare drug benefit (CQ HealthBeat, 7/29). In his remarks to the lobbyists on Thursday, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) said beneficiaries' support of the added coverage will be a boon to Republican lawmakers in the 2006 midterm elections and in their efforts to enact changes to Social Security. "If we have credibility with seniors, they'll start trusting us on Social Security," DeLay said (California Healthline, 7/29).
In a statement, Stark said that the new drug benefit will "cause mass confusion among those seeking to sign up, and the Republican party is now committed to muddying the waters for political gain." He added that Republicans who use the new benefit "as a political cookie to earn votes from unsuspecting senior citizens and people with disabilities may find in the end that it is too tough to swallow" (CQ HealthBeat, 7/29).