Medicare Discount Card Program Should Save Beneficiaries 10% to 17% on Brand-Name Prescription Drugs
The prescription drug discount cards that became available this week as part of the new Medicare law should save beneficiaries an average of 10% to 17% off average retail price for commonly used brand-name drugs, according to a study released Wednesday by CMS Administrator Mark McClellan, CQ Today reports (Schuler, CQ Today, 5/5). Established as part of the new Medicare law, the discounts cards are available to beneficiaries who do not have prescription drug coverage through Medicaid. Companies that offer the discount cards can charge an annual enrollment fee of as much as $30 and likely will offer savings on at least one medication in each of 209 classes of treatments commonly used by Medicare beneficiaries. HHS has approved a number of private companies to offer different discount cards to Medicare beneficiaries. Medicare beneficiaries with annual incomes of less than $12,569 for individuals or $16,862 for couples will qualify for a $600 annual subsidy for their prescription drug costs and will not have to pay enrollment fees. Beneficiaries can use the Medicare Web site or call 1-800-MEDICARE to make card-to-card comparisons of prescription drug discounts. According to HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson, the discount cards included to date on the Web site offer average savings of about 17% for brand-name medications drugs and 30% for generic treatments. Enrollment in the program began in May and the cards take effect in June (California Healthline, 5/4).
The CMS study, which analyzed proposed retail prices for drugs through 56 cards, found that prices were even lower for generic drugs, with an average savings of 30% to 60% off the average retail price. The study also found that the cards' discounts for commonly used drugs were similar to or slightly higher than those offered by Drugstore.com and Costco.com (Lipman, Palm Beach Post, 5/6). CMS officials also released a memo on Tuesday, "countering Democratic" criticism of the program, the Washington Times reports. Critics of the program have said it is "poorly structured, confusing to seniors and [does not] guarantee any savings," according to the Times. In a memo to colleagues this week, Rep. Robert Matsui (D-Calif.), chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said, "The GOP is ramping up its PR machine to try to convince people these cards and their Medicare bill will address the high cost of prescription drugs. But the facts remain squarely at odds with those claims, and no amount of PR in the world will be able to fool seniors." But Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said that Democrats are "hoping the seniors -- who they consider their political 'property' -- will believe them," adding that "this is not the time or the issue to play politics ... and to scare the seniors of America."
Some drug card sponsors have also criticized the Web site, saying that many prices posted on it are inaccurate. The CMS memo said that agency officials will continue to work with drug card sponsors on pricing information, but it added that the discounts posted on the Web site are accurate and "reflect the most that any senior can pay for a prescription drug under any given discount card -- prices that were provided to CMS by the card sponsors" (Fagan, Washington Times, 5/6). McClellan predicted that prices will fall further in the coming weeks (Palm Beach Post, 5/6). Thompson also said he expects competition to prompt additional discounts when new pricing information is posted on the Web site Monday, and he urged beneficiaries to "window shop for at least another 10 days" before choosing a card, according to the Dallas Morning News. Thompson also said he was "pleased with the speed and ease of implementing" the drug discount card program, according to the Morning News (Dodge, Dallas Morning News, 5/5).
NPR's "Talk of the Nation" on Wednesday included a discussion of Medicare's new prescription drug program. Guests on the program included McClellan; Marilyn Moon, health program director of the American Institutes for Research; and NPR health policy correspondent Julie Rovner (Conan, "Talk of the Nation," NPR, 5/5). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.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.