Medicare Begins Rx Drug Benefit Trial Program
HHS announced Friday the approval of a "first-ever" experimental prescription drug program for Medicare, available only to retired members of the United Mine Workers of America, the AP/Arizona Republic reports. Under the program, slated to begin July 1, Medicare will reimburse the union's retirement fund 27% of the costs of its existing prescription drug program. Medicare currently underwrites the retirement fund. The Republic reports that the three-year trial may provide the research necessary to evaluate the effectiveness of a national prescription drug program by analyzing whether drug benefits can prevent hospitalizations. HHS spokesperson Melissa Skolfield said, "We approved [the program] because we thought it would provide Congress good information and both parties agree that it will be a benefit." Skolfield added, "Since the failure of Congress to pass comprehensive drug coverage, we've been working to provide funding for some seniors. These programs give seniors immediate assistance. They will also establish firm facts for which future decisions can be based on."
HHS officials also announced that Maine will be included in a "trial program" that extends Medicaid drug benefits to people with incomes up to 300% of the federal poverty level. Called the Maine Prescription Drug Discount Program, the plan "mirrors" an initiative scheduled to begin this month in Vermont. Under the program, drug benefits will be offered to those who do not qualify completely for Medicaid, and depending on the particular drug, price discounts will range from 17% to 25% (Newton, AP/Arizona Republic, 1/21).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.