HHS To Mail Medicare Prescription Drug Discount Cards to Low-Income Beneficiaries
HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson on Wednesday is expected to announce a new plan under which federal officials will mail Medicare prescription drug discount cards to nearly two million low-income beneficiaries who already receive some government assistance with Medicare expenses, AP/Yahoo! News reports.
The prescription drug discount card program, created under the new Medicare law, is intended to provide temporary prescription drug coverage to Medicare beneficiaries until the full Medicare drug benefit begins in 2006. The cards aim to provide discounts of up to 25% off the retail price of brand-name prescription drugs. However, so far only 1.3 million of the approximately seven million low-income Medicare beneficiaries eligible for the new discount cards and accompanying $600 subsidy have signed up for the program.
Congressional Democrats have introduced legislation that would require automatic enrollment of more low-income beneficiaries, but the bills have not yet advanced, according to AP/Yahoo! News. The new discount card plan is designed to boost enrollment in the program while still allowing low-income beneficiaries to have a choice of cards. Eligible beneficiaries must activate the drug cards before they can be used. HHS officials said that requiring activation preserves freedom of choice for those who would prefer to use a different card. Officials said that a letter accompanying the cards will explain the program.
Thompson said, "Seniors with limited means who are struggling to pay for their medications can save right away. We're making it automatic, so those who qualify for the [subsidy] get it as soon as possible."
However, Rep. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who is sponsoring the bill in the House calling for automatic enrollment of more low-income beneficiaries, said the Bush administration should eliminate the intermediate step of activating the card. He said, "It's better than it was, but why not just do it right?" (Sherman, AP/Yahoo! News, 9/21).