Enrollment of Low-Income Medicare Beneficiaries in Prescription Drug Discount Card Program Remains Low After One Year
One year after President Bush signed the new Medicare law, government officials and consumer advocates continue to be frustrated in their efforts to enroll low-income beneficiaries in the prescription drug discount card program, the AP/Las Vegas Sun reports. The program offers discounts averaging 10% to 25% and provides an additional $600 annual subsidy for low-income beneficiaries.
To date, almost six million beneficiaries have enrolled in the program, including 1.5 million low-income beneficiaries. The Bush administration originally estimated that more than 4.5 million of the more than seven million low-income beneficiaries eligible for the program would enroll.
Enrollment efforts have not yet been as successful as anticipated, the AP/Sun reports. For instance, drug card program sponsors mailed nearly two million discount cards to low-income beneficiaries in October and asked them to make a phone call to activate the card and receive government assistance. To date, only 100,000 beneficiaries have activated the cards, according to CMS Administrator Mark McClellan.
James Firman, president of the National Council on the Aging and director of the Access to Benefits Coalition, said such low response rates are typical of government aid programs, which generally enroll about one in five eligible people. "People are skeptical. The benefits are complex, and people often have low literacy," Firman said, adding, "The process of deciding what to do and filling out the paperwork is hard work."
McClellan said, "The unfortunate truth is ... it can be really hard to find and then get enrolled and get helped the people the [federal aid] programs are intended to help."
According to some, the situation is compounded by the program's complexity, the AP/Sun reports. Victoria Shanahan, coordinator of Georgia Cares, said some volunteers who are working to enroll beneficiaries are finding it difficult to explain the program. Firman added that the level of complexity will only increase when the prescription drug benefit takes effect in 2006.
"The evidence is becoming overwhelming that the [drug card] program does not work," Robert Hayes, president of the Medicare Rights Center, said. He called on the Bush administration to eliminate a rule that states enrollment in the program is voluntary and instead automatically enroll all eligible beneficiaries, allowing those who do not want to participate to cancel their enrollment (Sherman, AP/Las Vegas Sun, 12/7).