Health Care Leaders Discuss Medicare Prescription Drug Discount Card Program
The prescription drug discount card program established under the new Medicare law could provide better benefits than previously thought to Medicare beneficiaries with the lowest incomes, but the program also "could sink under the weight of its complications," health care industry leaders and advocates said Thursday at a conference in Washington, D.C., the Baltimore Sun reports (Zaneski, Baltimore Sun, 3/5). Under the discount card program, to begin June 1, Medicare beneficiaries with annual incomes less than $12,123 for an individual and $16,362 for a couple will receive a $600 annual subsidy to help cover their prescription drug costs (California Healthline, 2/13). CMS Acting Deputy Director Leslie Norwalk on Thursday said other Medicare beneficiaries could achieve discounts of between 10% and 25% for name-brand drugs and 50% for generics if enough companies begin to compete for the seniors' business. The Sun reports that the number of companies -- currently 103 -- that want to offer discount drug cards shows that "cooperative ventures with private enterprises make good public policy," Norwalk said, adding, "If it doesn't work for the industry, it's not going to work for beneficiaries." Medicare officials said they are hoping to enroll at least 7.3 million seniors in the program beginning this month. Dan Mendelson, president of Health Strategies Consultancy, said that the "complication" will be to reach the seniors who most need the discounts but may have limited access to information about "such a complicated program," the Sun reports. According to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation study, 68% of U.S. residents age 65 or older did not know that the new Medicare law was passed. Patricia Neuman, a Kaiser Family Foundation vice president and director of its Medicare Policy Project, said, "We are at the beginning of a very steep learning curve" (Baltimore Sun, 3/5).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.