Medicare Prescription Drug Discount Card Might Not Be Least Expensive Option for California Beneficiaries, Study Finds
The new prescription drug discount card program established as part of the Medicare law might not offer lower prices than existing sources for medications, according to a study released Friday by Oakland-based Medicine for People in Need (Medpin), the AP/Contra Costa Times reports (Oberthur, AP/Contra Costa Times, 5/15). The Medicare discount card program is available to Medicare beneficiaries who do not have prescription drug coverage through Medicaid. Discount card sponsors 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. Medicare beneficiaries with annual incomes of less than $12,372 for individuals or $16,608 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 provide average savings of about 10% to 17% for brand-name medications and 30% to 60% for generic treatments. Enrollment in the program began this month, and the cards take effect in June (California Healthline, 5/14).
Researchers studied the cost of 10 generic prescription drugs and 10 brand-name medications from several sources, including prices offered through three discount cards under the Medicare program, two Canadian pharmacies, two online U.S. pharmacies and a state and federal discount program. According to researchers, "no one source emerged as the clear choice" for the better value, the AP/Times reports. In addition, researchers found that Medicare beneficiaries using discount cards could find it difficult to make informed decisions about how to obtain cost-effective medications, as the availability of information on specific drugs and prescription prices "changed significantly," the Times reports. According to researchers, discounts offered under the Medicare program can change weekly, but beneficiaries are permitted to switch cards only once each year. Kathryn Duke, program director of Medpin, said, "We don't feel that information on the Medicare Web site is as stable or perhaps as accurate as it should be." She added, "We were disappointed to discover how difficult it is now for a California Medicare patient to make an informed decision about purchasing." CMS Administrator Mark McClellan said that the study is incomplete and is not representative of the potential savings offered by the Medicare drug discount cards. He added that allowing beneficiaries to change cards once per year allows for "stable pools of customers" that could result in deeper discounts (AP/Contra Costa Times, 5/15).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.