Medicare Drug Discount Card Program Web Site Contains Errors, Lawmakers Say
The Medicare Web site that lists prescription drug prices for the new drug discount card program contains a number of errors that could lead beneficiaries to sign up for a discount card that does not offer the best savings, Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) said this week in a letter to HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson, Roll Call reports. Staff members on the House Government Reform Committee -- of which Waxman is a ranking minority member -- surveyed 10 independently owned pharmacies within a two-mile radius of HHS headquarters in downtown Washington, D.C. They found that one pharmacy that was listed on the Medicare Web site as accepting 23 different drug discount cards only honors 11, and another pharmacy that is listed as accepting 19 cards is honoring just nine. A third pharmacy that is listed as accepting seven cards "appears to be closed," the letter states, adding, "Even though these pharmacies are virtually on the department's doorstep, the information available on the Medicare.gov Web site was inaccurate for the majority of the pharmacies."
Another survey performed by Slaughter's staff in conjunction with Waxman staff members found 45 examples in which the Medicare Web site stated erroneously that certain cards were accepted by local pharmacies in upstate New York. The letter also mentioned a pharmacy in Langdon, N.D., that has been closed for at least three years but was listed on the Medicare Web site as accepting six drug cards. "Seniors who go to the Web site and choose a drug card because they believe that their local pharmacy is a participant may find that this is not the case. As a result, the card they choose could leave them without access to their local pharmacy," Waxman and Slaughter wrote, adding that beneficiaries will not be able to switch cards until November. Waxman and Slaughter also said that some drug card sponsors are not following HHS rules on how participating pharmacies must be identified, interpreting nonresponse from pharmacies as indications that they will accept certain cards. According to the letter, AdvancePCS, Anthem Prescription Management, Argus Health Systems, Pharmacare and Medco Health Solutions are among the card sponsors who have used "these passive-acceptance agreements."
HHS spokesperson Bill Pierce said that Waxman and Slaughter's letter fails to mention that "millions of seniors are getting savings and a real benefit from Medicare drug discount cards." He added that the letter focuses on a few irregularities in a program with more than 50,000 participating pharmacies. Pierce said that lawmakers' concerns would be investigated because "[i]t's the way we do things in Medicare" (Pierce, Roll Call, 7/7).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.