HHS To Launch New Medicare Prescription Drug Discount Card Web Site
The Bush administration on Thursday will officially launch a Web site that will allow Medicare beneficiaries to compare prescription drug discount cards endorsed by the program, CongressDaily reports (Rovner, CongressDaily, 4/1). As part of the new Medicare law, the discount cards will be available beginning in May to all beneficiaries who do not have prescription drug coverage through Medicaid. The discount cards could offer savings of about 10% to 25% on beneficiaries' prescription drug costs until the new prescription drug benefit takes effect in 2006. Companies offering the cards can charge an annual enrollment fee of up to $30 and likely will offer savings on at least one drug in each of 209 categories of medicines commonly used by Medicare beneficiaries. HHS last week approved 28 private companies to offer 49 different discount cards to Medicare beneficiaries. Under the discount program, beneficiaries with annual incomes less than $12,569 per year for individuals or $16,862 for couples will be eligible for a $600 annual subsidy for their prescription drug costs and will not have to pay any enrollment fees (California Healthline, 3/26). According to CongressDaily, the Web site represents a "key element" in the promotion of the discount cards. The Web site will allow Medicare beneficiaries to view a list of "approved" discount cards and contact information. At the end of April, the Web site also will include a list of prescription drug prices at specific pharmacies. "This is going to have a tremendous impact on making things more competitive," HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson said. New CMS Administrator Mark McClellan added, "This is a fundamental change in the way seniors buy drugs." CMS officials next week plan to hold a seminar to instruct counselors who will help Medicare beneficiaries select discount cards.
Critics of the discount card program have raised concerns that although the Web site will revise the list of prescription drug prices each week, Medicare beneficiaries can switch cards only during an open-enrollment period at the end of the year. HHS officials said that while Medicare beneficiaries cannot switch discount cards, they can switch pharmacies to take advantage of lower prices. In addition, HHS officials said that the "very act of making prices public will help keep prices in check, not just for Medicare purchasers but for everyone," CongressDaily reports. "Members of Congress are going to be watching this. The press is going to be watching it. Hospitals are, health plans are," Thompson said (CongressDaily, 4/1).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.