New Coalition Seeks To Boost Enrollment in Medicare Prescription Drug Discount Card Program
A new coalition of lobbyists for the elderly, African Americans and Hispanics on Sunday announced the launch of a nationwide campaign designed to help 5.5 million low-income Medicare beneficiaries enroll in the new prescription drug discount card program, the New York Times reports. The group, called the Access to Benefits Coalition, is composed of 68 organizations, including the Center for Medicare Advocacy, AARP, the Alzheimer's Association, Easter Seals and the National Alliance for Hispanic Health (Pear, New York Times, 5/24). The discount card program, created as part of the new Medicare law, is available to Medicare beneficiaries who do not have prescription drug coverage through Medicaid. Beneficiaries have access to a number of discount cards endorsed by Medicare. 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, 5/21).
The Bush administration estimates that 7.2 million Medicare beneficiaries are eligible for the $600 subsidy but that only 4.7 million will take advantage of the program. The coalition hopes to increase that number to 5.5 million beneficiaries, according to Howard Bedlin, vice president of the National Council on the Aging. According to the Times, the coalition includes some organizations that had originally opposed the new Medicare law. Randall Rutta, senior vice president of Easter Seals, said, "We could not support the Medicare bill last fall, but we will certainly reach out to low-income beneficiaries to make sure they take advantage of the assistance now available." Stephen McConnell, senior vice president of the Alzheimer's Association, added, "The best part of the new law is what it can do for low-income people. We intend to go out and get them enrolled. It's a daunting task" (New York Times, 5/24).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.