Health Insurers, Group Launch Educational Campaigns for Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit
Several health insurers and a group of organizations have launched campaigns to educate Medicare beneficiaries about the new prescription drug benefit, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports. Enrollment in the Medicare prescription drug benefit begins on Nov. 15, and coverage begins Jan. 1, 2006. 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 (Gibson, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 7/20). In addition, UnitedHealth Group on Tuesday 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.
UnitedHealth also has established a hotline to answer questions about the Medicare prescription benefit and has announced plans to spend $75 million to hire 600 new employees to prepare for the benefit (AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 7/19).
Chip Palazzo, a spokesperson for WellPoint, said that the company will announce an educational campaign on the Medicare prescription drug benefit in the near future (Associated Press, 7/19).
Tricia Neuman, a Kaiser Family Foundation vice president and director of the Medicare Policy Project at the foundation, said, "Seniors are used to getting a Medicare product from Medicare. This is a pretty big shift," adding, "Name recognition is going to be critical for these companies. But in the end, seniors need to focus on what's best for them" (South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 7/20).
Meanwhile, a group of 40 organizations on Wednesday launched an educational campaign that seeks to "present a uniform message to potential beneficiaries about the Medicare prescription drug benefit," CQ HealthBeat reports. The Medicare Rx Education Network includes the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association, the BlueCross BlueShield Association, America's Health Insurance Plans and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
The group, chaired by former Sen. John Breaux (D-La.), seeks to improve coordination among members "instead of stepping on each other's messages and their events," Breaux said. Cheryl Matheis, director of health and strategy for AARP, said that the message of the group is: "There is now going to be a prescription drug benefit in Medicare, but it's not automatic." The group began to air advertisements on Wednesday on some cable news channels, A&E, the History Channel and network morning and evening news programs. The ads, which will air through the end of August, provide Medicare beneficiaries general enrollment information and direct them to a toll-free number and Web site sponsored by the group for additional information. The ad campaign cost $5 million (CQ HealthBeat, 7/19).
In other Medicare news, the American Medical Association on Wednesday launched an outreach campaign in Iowa to raise support for increased reimbursements to physicians, The Hill reports. Medicare reimbursements to physicians are scheduled to decrease by 5% next year, and AMA has lobbied for legislation to reverse the reduction.
AMA, which conducted a similar campaign in Texas in June, will to air radio ads in Iowa that explain the scheduled reduction in Medicare reimbursements to physicians and call on state residents to telephone Senate Finance Committee Chair Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and "urge him to keep fighting to preserve access for Iowans." In addition, AMA will publish print ads, hold a "house call" news conference on Thursday, meet with Iowa Medical Society officials and newspaper editorial boards and offer group officials for appearances on TV and radio programs (Young, The Hill, 7/20).
Additional information on the Medicare drug benefit is available online.