MEDICARE: Seniors Value Program, Worry About Rx Costs
Americans ages 50 to 70 place "high value" on Medicare, according to a newly released Commonwealth Fund study, titled "Counting on Medicare: Perspectives and Concerns of Americans Ages 50 to 70." Those surveyed, some of whom are already in the Medicare program and others who are nearing eligibility, cited Medicare as the most trusted insurance plan for their age group. Despite this confidence, the absence of a comprehensive prescription drug benefit remains a major concern for adults in this age range. Although 80% of respondents have a health condition requiring medication, only 54% have a drug benefit included in their health plan. Respondents also indicated that not having drug coverage "creates barriers to care and imposes steep financial burdens on them and their families." For example, 9% of adults ages 50 to 64 and 16% of adults ages 65 to 70 report spending more than $100 per month on out-of-pocket drug costs. For those Medicare beneficiaries without drug benefits, this spending level equals 5% of income for one in five adults. For those not eligible for Medicare and also lacking drug coverage, spending levels of more than $100 a month translates into 5% of income for one in 10 adults.
Karen Davis, president of the Commonwealth Fund, noted that although Americans in the 50 to 70 age group generally trust that they will receive quality care from Medicare, many worry about their future financial security as drug costs drain their personal income. Davis said, "In today's health care environment, the lack of a prescription drug benefit means that even those with health coverage are often underinsured." Researchers say that one reason older Americans trust Medicare is that they often face instability in getting insurance from the private sector, while at the same time they are at greater risk of developing chronic, acute or disabling health conditions. "Being uninsured at age 50 or 60 can quickly turn into a crisis for personal and family health," Cathy Schoen, the study's principle author, said, adding, "These men and women are telling us that [during] a time of life when they face increasing health concerns, having insurance they can depend on is critical" (Commonwealth Fund release, 7/21).