Polls Indicate ‘Mixed Feelings’ About Medicare Legislation
Two polls released Monday -- one by ABC News/Washington Post and one by CNN/USA Today/Gallup -- indicate "mixed feelings" among the U.S. public about the recently signed Medicare legislation (HR 1), the AP/Las Vegas Sun reports. In one poll, CNN/USA Today/Gallup conducted telephone surveys of 1,083 adults from Dec. 5-7 (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 12/8). Fifty-two percent of respondents said they approve of the measure, while 30% disapproved. Among respondents ages 65 and older, 46% said they supported the law, compared with 39% who opposed it. About 80% percent of respondents overall said they were concerned that the prescription drug benefit as written will be inadequate; among respondents ages 65 and older, 56% said they were "very concerned" about an inadequate benefit, USA Today reports. Almost two-thirds of those polled said the new benefits might cost the government too much, but 75% of total respondents said concerns about an insufficient drug benefit outweighed concerns about costs. Finally, about 75% of respondents said the benefit is too complicated for beneficiaries to understand; 84% of respondents ages 65 and older expressed that concern (Page, USA Today, 12/9). The margin of error for the poll is plus or minus three percentage points (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 12/8).
In a telephone survey of 1,029 U.S. adults conducted Dec. 3-7, an ABC News/Washington Post poll found that 32% of respondents approved of the new legislation, 38% disapproved and 30% said they had no opinion. Among respondents ages 65 and older, 26% approved, compared with 47% who disapproved and 28% who had no opinion. Forty-nine percent of respondents identified as Republicans approved of the new law, compared with 30% of Independents and 22% of Democrats. The poll also found that 52% of respondents reported following news about the legislation; of those, 17% reported following it "very closely." Forty-seven percent of respondents reported not following the bill closely. Among seniors, 79% reported following the Medicare news closely, and of those, 36% said they have been following it very closely. Among those who followed the debate very closely, 39% approved of the new law, 56% disapproved and 6% had no opinion. About 37% of men approved of the legislation, compared with 29% of women. In addition, 31% of people in lower-income households said they approved of the new measure, compared with 41% who said they disapproved. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage point (ABC News/Washington Post release, 12/8).
The New York Times reports that "no one knows whether the new legislation will work as intended." It remains unclear whether beneficiaries will sign up for the new benefit, whether insurers will be able to lower costs through negotiations with drug companies or whether employers will discontinue drug benefits in retirees' health plans, according to the Times. However, the "biggest questions" surround the role of private insurers in administering the new benefit, the Times reports. About 12% of beneficiaries are now enrolled in private plans -- a figure that the Bush administration expects to increase to 35% by 2007 -- but it is not clear if competition between traditional Medicare and private plans will lower costs. According to the Times, private-sector insurance companies have a "mixed record of controlling costs." In addition, it remains to be seen whether insurers will begin to offer stand-along drug benefit policies, which are currently not widely offered (Pear, New York Times, 12/9). The Christian Science Monitor reports that despite Monday's enactment of the new law, "Medicare is likely to remain a difficult and contentious issue in Washington for years to come." Democrats are expected to push measures that would make the drug benefit more comprehensive, while Republicans are expected to try to increase the private-sector role in operating Medicare. Aside from political "wrangling," the Monitor reports that finances will be a point of contention as the new law "does not really address the long-term cost of the system, which is expected to explode" (Grier, Christian Science Monitor, 12/9).
As President Bush signed the legislation into law on Monday, the "$400 billion question" of whether the drug benefit will provide assistance to beneficiaries remained unanswered, the Charlotte Observer reports (Baldwin, Charlotte Observer, 12/8). In some states, such as Pennsylvania, existing prescription drug discount programs for people ages 65 and older are "more comprehensive" than the Medicare drug benefit will be, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports (Toland/Rotstein, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 12/9). In most cases, the "exact parameters of eligibility, coverage and cost are complicated" and will differ based on beneficiaries' incomes and region of the county, according to the Des Moines Register. Some specifics of the benefit -- such as a list of covered drugs and premiums set by insurers -- have yet to be finalized, according to the Register. Federal health officials are expected to begin an informational campaign about the new benefit by early next year (Kauffman, Des Moines Register, 12/9).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.