Most Seniors Confused About New Medicare Law, Survey Finds
Many U.S. residents ages 65 and older do not understand the new Medicare law (HR 1), and those who do say they do not like it, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey released Thursday, the Los Angeles Times reports. The foundation conducted a telephone survey of 1,201 adults -- 237 of them 65 or older -- from Feb. 5 to Feb. 8, just days after HHS launched a television ad campaign promoting the new law (Kemper, Los Angeles Times, 2/27). The survey found that although 64% of seniors (49% of the general public) said they followed the debate over the new law "very closely" or "somewhat closely," 68% of seniors (77% of the general public) did not know that the law was passed by Congress and signed by President Bush. In addition, 15% of seniors (7% of the public) said they understand the law "very well"; 24% of seniors (26% of the public) said they understand the law "somewhat well"; and 60% of seniors (64% of the public) said they understand it "not too well" or "not well at all." Based on their "personal knowledge" about the law, 55% of seniors (38% of the public) said their impression of the law is "unfavorable," compared with 17% of seniors (25% of the public) who said their impression is "favorable," the survey says. Twenty-eight percent of seniors (37% of the public) said they do not have any impression of the new law. Among seniors who were aware that the law had passed, 58% said they understood it "very" or "somewhat" well, compared with 31% of those who did not know the law had passed. In addition, of seniors who were aware that the law had passed, 73% viewed it unfavorably, compared with 46% who were unaware that it has been enacted (KFF release, 2/26). The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 6.7 percentage points (Dalrymple, AP/Contra Costa Times, 2/27).
The new survey "shows Bush's challenge in gaining politically from [the]new Medicare drug benefit," the Wall Street Journal reports (Wall Street Journal, 2/27). Kaiser President and CEO Drew Altman said, "The lack of understanding of the prescription drug law makes it ripe for political demagoguery on both sides as we enter the election season" (Wheeler, Gannett/Detroit News, 2/27). "The President will say he delivered a good prescription drug law and the Democratic candidate will say it's a bad law. How are seniors to judge?" Altman said. He added, "It will take customized, one-on-one assistance to really give beneficiaries meaningful help" understanding the law. Mollyann Brodie, a Kaiser vice president and director of public opinion and media research at the foundation, said, "Implementation of the drug benefit is still two years away and success or failure is not preordained, but as of right now, there is obviously a huge need for seniors to have more information" (KFF release, 2/26). Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, said, "There is no question that seniors all across the country are confused, bewildered and perplexed by the new legislation and have a very difficult time navigating the choices that are in their best interest." Robert Hayes, president of the Medicare Rights Center, said the survey "statistically proves what is overwhelmingly obvious from the trenches: There is massive confusion, great anxiety and frustration on the part of people with Medicare." He added that the Bush administration's ad campaign on the Medicare legislation is not enough to address seniors' concerns and that seniors' confusion is further "complicated by all the political posturing" by lawmakers (Los Angeles Times, 2/27). The survey is available online.
Former Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) has agreed to help Pfizer promote the Medicare prescription drug benefit in a campaign also sponsored by the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, the Lupus Foundation of America, WomenHeart, the ALS Association, RetireSafe.org, the Alliance for Aging Research and the National Grange. Over the next several months, Dole will deliver six speeches at sites across the country explaining the legislation and "encouraging people to enroll to receive its benefits," The Hill reports. In a speech to Washington health care leaders last week, Dole said, "The Medicare prescription drug benefit represents the greatest expansion of Medicare benefits since its inception. It will help millions of Americans lower the cost of their prescriptions and millions more will be eligible for free medicines." He added that the legislation is "an excellent approach that provides a tremendous benefit for seniors" (Eisele/Dufour, The Hill, 2/26).
In related news, House Democrats and MoveOn.org Voter Fund on Thursday asked the Justice Department to launch an investigation of the Medicare ad campaign, which they called "re-election ads" for President Bush, according to the Wall Street Journal (Wall Street Journal, 2/27). One 30-second ad, which is titled "Same Medicare. More Benefits" and will air through March on network and cable television, is part of a larger promotional campaign that includes print and radio ads to inform beneficiaries about reforms to Medicare and address some criticisms about the law. HHS will pay for the campaign with part of the $1 billion in federal funds allocated to implement reforms to Medicare. At the request of some Democrats, the General Accounting Office has launched an investigation to determine whether the Bush administration developed the ad for "political purposes." Democrats have called on ABC, CBS, CNN and NBC to pull the ads until GAO completes its investigation (California Healthline, 2/19).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.