Enrollment Slow in New Medicare Prescription Drug Discount Card Program
Enrollment in the new Medicare prescription drug discount card program appears to be slow so far, as many beneficiaries seem unwilling "to commit just yet," Long Island Newsday reports (Mackeen, Long Island Newsday, 5/27). The discount card program, created as part of the new Medicare law, is available to Medicare beneficiaries who do not have prescription drug coverage through Medicaid. Beneficiaries have access to a number of discount cards sponsored by private companies and endorsed by Medicare. Card sponsors can charge an annual enrollment fee of as much as $30 and likely will offer savings on at least one medication in each of 209 classes of treatments commonly used by Medicare beneficiaries. Medicare beneficiaries with annual incomes of less than $12,372 for individuals or $16,608 for couples will qualify for a $600 annual subsidy for their prescription drug costs and will not have to pay enrollment fees. Beneficiaries can use the Medicare Web site or call 1-800-MEDICARE to make card-to-card comparisons of prescription drug discounts. According to HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson, the discount cards provide average savings of about 10% to 17% for brand-name medications and 30% to 60% for generic treatments. Enrollment in the program began this month (California Healthline, 5/26).
Drug card sponsors and CMS, which predicts 7.3 million beneficiaries ultimately will sign up for the cards, have not yet released specific enrollment figures, according to Newsday. Sponsors say that the first group of beneficiaries signing up is made up mostly of those with low annual incomes who qualify for the $600 subsidy. Michael Polzin, a spokesperson for Walgreens, said the company is seeing a "steady number of people" signing up for the Walgreens' card, but not the "big crush" that had been expected. Some seniors have found that they can find prices through online pharmacies or by purchasing their medications from Canada. "I don't know anyone that is going on this card," Joan Andersen of the advocacy group Seniors Against Discrimination, said. Robert Hayes, president of the Medicare Rights Center, said, "Even CMS is not projecting more than 15% to 20% enrollment under their best-case scenario. I would be shocked if (enrollment) is more than miniscule." Enrollment also has been delayed because drug prices quoted on the program Web site continue to fluctuate and information on all 73 approved cards still is not available. CMS Administrator Mark McClellan has also urged seniors to wait to sign up for the cards to see if prices go down because of competition. Michael Nameth, general manager for WellPoint Pharmacy Management, which is sponsoring a card, said, "I think everyone is hoping that [enrollment is] going to pick up." Mark Merritt, president of the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association, said, "This is not a 40-yard dash. This is going to take a little more time for seniors to figure out what they want" (Long Island Newsday, 5/27).
Saying that Democratic members of Congress have failed to adequately educate Medicare beneficiaries about the new drug discount card program, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) on Tuesday launched a new strategy through which Republican senators and representatives hold town hall meetings in Democratic districts to promote the new program. DeLay and Cornyn on Tuesday held a town hall meeting in the Houston-based 18th District, and they are encouraging other congressional Republicans to do the same in other Democratic districts. "We've shifted gears a bit to where we are specifically targeting low-income Americans and going into Democratic districts and simply informing Americans how they benefit from [the program]," a DeLay spokesperson said. An unnamed Republican House leadership aide said, "Democrats are doing a disservice to their seniors by not informing them about all the benefits available to them." A spokesperson for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said that Democrats have been educating Medicare beneficiaries in town hall meetings, adding, "The fact that seniors don't like (the bill) doesn't mean that we are not educating them. It speaks to the bigger issue that this is a bad law." She added that Republicans "are not listening to what our message is -- we have been saying that there are some seniors who this bill will help, but the reality is for most seniors, it doesn't" (Davis, CongressDaily, 5/26).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.