Medicare Prescription Drug Discount Card Enrollment Has Improved, CMS Administrator Says
During an appearance before the Senate Special Committee on Aging, CMS Administrator Mark McClellan on Monday presented "an upbeat picture" of the progress in enrolling beneficiaries in the new Medicare drug discount card program, the AP/Las Vegas Sun reports (Sherman, AP/Las Vegas Sun, 7/19). He said that 3.9 million beneficiaries have enrolled in the program so far -- about half of the 7.4 million expected to sign up for the cards. Enrollment is "definitely continuing at a steady clip. The numbers are picking up," McClellan said. He noted that CMS has made several changes in recent weeks designed to facilitate enrollment, including that the program's Web site now automatically displays the five lowest-price, Medicare-approved discount cards. McClellan added that the drug discount card program is delivering savings that are better than originally projected, ranging from 11% to 18% for brand-name drugs and 37% to 65% for generic drugs, according to the Hartford Courant. CMS initially forecast savings of 10% to 25% for all drugs (MacDonald, Hartford Courant, 7/20).
Less than 14% of low-income beneficiaries have signed up for the drug discount card, the AP/Sun reports (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 7/19). Under the Medicare law passed last year, low-income Medicare beneficiaries are eligible for a $600 subsidy. Sen. John Breaux (D-La.) urged McClellan to boost enrollment among low-income beneficiaries by giving them "the maximum amount of encouragement" to enroll (Heil, CongressDaily, 7/20). McClellan said, "I will be doing all I can" to encourage enrollment by low-income beneficiaries, noting that the government is working with a number of civic groups to boost recruitment of low-income beneficiaries (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 7/19).
McClellan also addressed a mandate in the new Medicare law that asks CMS to create an asset test that would direct the "most generous Medicare drug coverage to low-income seniors," CongressDaily reports. The asset limit is $6,000 for individuals and $9,000 for couples below 135 percent of the poverty line and does not include certain kinds of property, such as homes, cars and burial plots (CongressDaily, 7/20). Critics of the asset test have said that the standards are unclear. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) said the program could exclude some beneficiaries if they have wedding rings or other assets that when combined, exceed the income limit. McClellan responded that CMS is "not going to be taking away benefits based on seniors keeping their wedding rings. That is not the way that this program, I think, was intended to operate, and it's not the way it's going to operate." He added that CMS in the coming weeks will issue regulations to govern the new drug benefit that could answer some critics' questions. McClellan also said that the $600 subsidy should not be counted against beneficiaries applying for food stamps or housing programs. He released a letter the agency sent to New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D) that says the state was wrong to inform some residents that they were ineligible for the drug card program because they receive other governmental aid, such as food stamps (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 7/20).
WAMU's "The Diane Rehm Show," a syndicated NPR program, on Monday included a discussion on Medicare issues, including prescription drug discount cards, coverage for treatment of obesity and other health policy developments. Guests on the program included Sarah Lueck, health policy reporter for the Wall Street Journal, and Julie Rovner, health policy correspondent for NPR and CongressDaily (Rehm, "The Diane Rehm Show," WAMU, 7/19). 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.