Health Insurers Must Provide 90-Day Supply of Prescription Drugs to Medicare Beneficiaries, HHS Says
Health insurers offering Medicare drug plans must provide beneficiaries with an additional 60-day emergency supply of medication, an extension that increases the emergency supply requirement under the Medicare prescription drug benefit to a total of 90 days, the Bush administration said on Wednesday, the AP/Long Island Newsday reports (Freking, AP/Long Island Newsday, 2/2). Last month, the administration instructed insurers to provide beneficiaries with a 30-day emergency supply of any drugs they were taking before the Medicare prescription drug benefit began Jan. 1 (California Healthline, 1/19).
The 30-day transitional coverage is required under the 2003 Medicare law. In a news release, HHS said the 60-day extension will allow beneficiaries more time to consider switching to less costly alternatives to their current medications.
HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt announced the extension as part of a preview of a progress report on the first month of the Medicare drug benefit. CMS Administrator Mark McClellan will present the report to the Senate Special Committee on Aging on Thursday (Carey, CQ HealthBeat, 2/1). According to Leavitt, competition among private plans has led to lower costs under the new benefit (AP/Long Island Newsday, 2/2).
The report states that the federal government will spend about 20% less per beneficiary in 2006 than previously estimated, and over the next five years, payments likely will be at least 10% lower than first estimated. Leavitt said that projected enrollment in the benefit "has not changed significantly."
He also noted that although the drug benefit "has worked for the vast majority of participants, the first trip to the pharmacy has been frustrating for some, particularly for certain people with Medicare and Medicaid," he said in a statement. He added, "We make no excuses. These are our problems to solve and this report shows that we are making progress."
Leavitt said that wait times for pharmacists and beneficiaries calling the Medicare help line have been "unacceptable," adding that steps will be taken to reduce the delays. In addition, he said that most drug plans have worked to address wait times for their phone lines and that HHS will monitor the situation and take action if wait times for drug plans' phone lines do not improve (CQ HealthBeat, 2/1).