President Bush Promotes Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit in Weekly Radio Address
President Bush on Saturday in his weekly radio address "touted his changes" to Medicare as part of a shift from his recent focus on Social Security to health care and other domestic policy concerns, Reuters/New York Daily News reports. Bush said, "The Medicare modernization bill I signed into law in 2003 created a new prescription drug benefit, so our seniors could have more choices and receive the affordable modern health care they deserve."
Bush also plans to discuss Medicare at events in Washington on Thursday and Minnesota on Friday. According to Bush aides, the president plans to encourage Medicare beneficiaries to enroll in the new prescription drug benefit, which will begin in January (Reuters/New York Daily News, 6/12).
In related news, CMS officials have received bids from an adequate number of private health insurers to "assure Medicare's 42 million beneficiaries of a wide range of choices" when the prescription drug benefit begins, according to industry and government officials, the Los Angeles Times reports. The deadline for health insurers to submit bids to offer Medicare prescription drug plans passed last week.
According to industry officials, 10 large health insurers submitted bids to offer Medicare prescription drug plans in all 50 states, and a number of others submitted bids to offer plans in different regions. CMS has until Sept. 14 to decide which bids to approve. Health insurers can begin to market Medicare prescription drug plans in October, and beneficiaries can begin to enroll on Nov. 15.
Companies "want to become involved and equated with the program so they don't get left behind in years to come," Mark Merritt, president of the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association, said. However, he said, "The real years to watch are 2007 and beyond," adding, "While there is certainly an opportunity here, there is also risk. ... This is a brand new market that has no track record."
Eric Elliott, president of Aetna Pharmacy Management, said large health insurers likely will continue to offer Medicare prescription drug plans in the future, adding, "We are hearing from the government that they have a commitment to keep this program viable, and because of that, we are absolutely committed." Elliott said that most Medicare beneficiaries likely will have 10 prescription drug plans from which to select.
Tricia Neuman, a Kaiser Family Foundation vice president and director of the Medicare Policy Project at the foundation, said, "With more choice, seniors have a better shot at finding a plan that meets their needs," although she added that "too much choice can also be paralyzing."
On Friday, CMS announced that Medicare prescription drug plans will have to cover "all or substantially all" medications in six categories: cancer medications; HIV/AIDS treatments; antidepressants; antipsychotic medications; anticonvulsive treatments for epilepsy and other conditions; and immunosuppressants.
According to the Times, although CMS made the announcement to help "reassure advocates who feared that some seriously ill patients could be denied access to costly medications," the announcement likely will not "dispel all the concerns" because of certain exceptions. For example, the requirement will not apply to medications that reach the market after Jan. 1 (Alonso-Zaldivar, Los Angeles Times, 6/11).
In related news, state lawmakers are "working overtime this year to craft plans implementing" the 2003 Medicare law, CongressDaily reports. "The federal rules of coverage and the state rules of coverage have been quite different. States are not complaining about shifting their programs, but for some it's a real complexity and the timetable has been fairly tight," Richard Cauchi, a spokesperson for the National Conference of State Legislatures, said.
According to CongressDaily, some states with their own prescription drug coverage programs, such as Delaware, have enacted laws to require eligible participants to switch to the Medicare prescription drug benefit. Delaware will use some of the funds saved to establish a "wrap-around benefit" to help Medicare beneficiaries cover some out-of-pocket prescription costs.
Maryland has enacted a similar law and will use some of the funds saved to extend prescription drug coverage to residents younger than age 65.
In addition, Indiana has enacted a law that requires a review to ensure that the state prescription drug coverage programs do not overlap with the Medicare benefit.
Montana has established a program that extends prescription drug coverage to Medicare beneficiaries with incomes less than 200% above the federal poverty level and a discount program for some state residents younger than age 65.
Five states also have enacted laws that require the establishment of information "clearinghouses" to help educate residents about the Medicare prescription drug benefit.
Meanwhile, North Dakota has enacted a law that limits the amount of time eligible residents have to switch from state prescription drug coverage programs to the Medicare benefit (Klein, CongressDaily, 6/13).
FDA is "dragging its feet" on the approval of a proposal to use data collected from Medicare beneficiaries to establish a databank to help "spot potential problems" with prescription drugs after they reach the market, according to a Times editorial. The editorial states that such a databank "could shave years off the time it takes to match popular drugs with previously unknown side effects" and help FDA determine which medications are "most cost effective."
The "idea should be taken beyond Medicare to include Medicaid" and private health insurers, the editorial adds.
According to the editorial, FDA has not "given a reason for its slow response" to the proposal, and lawmakers should introduce legislation to "get this innovating and practical idea going." The editorial concludes, "Quite possibly, the FDA is just engaging in old-fashioned inefficiency and lack of resolve. Now that's the kind of bureaucracy the U.S. public is sadly accustomed to seeing" (Los Angeles Times, 6/13).
Additional information on the Medicare drug benefit is available online.