Enrollment Up, Costs Lower for Medicare Drug Benefit
Acting CMS Administrator Kerry Weems on Thursday announced that enrollment in the Medicare prescription drug benefit in 2008 increased by 6.2% from last year to 25.4 million beneficiaries, Bloomberg/Philadelphia Inquirer reports.
Among the 44.2 million beneficiaries, 17.4 million have enrolled in stand-alone prescription drug plans and eight million have enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans, according to CMS. In addition, 14.2 million Medicare beneficiaries receive prescription drug coverage through retirement, veterans or other programs, CMS said (Goldstein, Bloomberg/Philadelphia Inquirer, 2/1). According to CMS, over 39 million Medicare beneficiaries, or 90%, have prescription drug coverage through the prescription drug benefit or some other source (Carey, CQ HealthBeat, 1/31).
Weems also said that the estimated cost of the Medicare prescription drug benefit through 2017 decreased by $117 billion from an estimate last year (Bloomberg/Philadelphia Inquirer, 2/1). The Medicare prescription drug benefit will cost an estimated $243.7 billion through 2017, CMS said (CQ HealthBeat, 1/31). In addition, Weems said that Medicare prescription drug spending in 2008 will decrease to $36 billion from $40.5 billion last year.
Weems attributed the reduction in the estimated cost of the Medicare prescription drug benefit to "slowing of drug cost trends, lower estimates of drug plan spending and higher rebates from drug makers." He added, "It's rare to see continued cost reductions in a program, particularly one of this complexity" (Bloomberg/Philadelphia Inquirer, 2/1).
House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee Chair Pete Stark (D-Calif.) in a statement said that CMS is not doing enough to enroll low-income Medicare beneficiaries eligible for subsidies, adding, "Lower costs don't prove the program is working if beneficiaries are not getting the medications that they need" (CQ HealthBeat, 1/31).
The Medicare prescription drug benefit enrollment update is available online.