Seniors’ Views Mixed on Medicare Drug Benefit
About 30% of seniors have a favorable view of the Medicare drug benefit, while 46% have an unfavorable view, according to an April Kaiser Health Poll Report Survey released on Tuesday by the Kaiser Family Foundation, CQ HealthBeat reports. The survey, taken April 6 through April 11, examined the opinions of 517 adults ages 65 and older.
According to the survey, 48% of seniors who are enrolled in the drug benefit have a favorable view of the program, while 52% of unenrolled seniors have an unfavorable view (CQ HealthBeat, 4/25). The survey also finds that:
- Among 154 enrolled seniors, 44% are "very satisfied" with their drug plan, and 31% are "somewhat satisfied."
- About 11% of enrolled seniors are "not too satisfied" with their drug plan and 10% are "not at all satisfied" ("Seniors' Early Experiences with the Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit," Kaiser Family Foundation, 4/25).
- The majority of enrolled seniors have filled at least one prescription, and more than eight in 10 had no problems getting their prescriptions filled; nearly two in 10 experienced problems getting prescriptions filled (Kaiser Family Foundation release, 4/25).
- 31% of seniors already are enrolled in Medicare drug plans, and 13% plan to enroll; 38% do not plan to enroll, and 16% have not yet decided.
- About 55% of seniors think they will spend less money on drugs under their plan than before they enrolled, while 19% think their drug plan will increase their costs and 19% think their costs will be about the same ("Seniors' Early Experiences with the Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit," Kaiser Family Foundation, 4/25).
The survey also examined seniors' knowledge of the May 15 deadline for enrolling in the drug benefit without financial penalty. According to the survey, 55% of seniors know the deadline is May 15, 34% do not know the correct deadline and 6% said there is no deadline (AP/St. Petersburg Times, 4/26).
Fifty-three percent of seniors know that enrolling after the deadline will result in a financial penalty of a 1% increase in monthly premiums for each month of late enrollment (Wolf, USA Today, 4/26). Forty-seven percent of seniors do not know there is a penalty for late enrollment (AP/St. Petersburg Times, 4/26).
The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus five percentage points (Kaiser Family Foundation release, 4/25).
The survey and other materials are available online.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce also released a survey on Tuesday examining seniors' opinions of the drug benefit, CQ HealthBeat reports. According to the survey of 970 registered voters older than age 65 conducted April 18 through April 20 and on April 22, 39% of seniors have a "not too favorable view" of the drug benefit, CQ HealthBeat reports.
Among self-enrolled beneficiaries, 35% have a somewhat favorable view of the program, and 28% have a very favorable view. The survey also finds that 52% of seniors feel they are saving money under the drug benefit (CQ HealthBeat, 4/25).
In related news, CMS officials confirmed that there is about a two-month delay in the beginning of automatic deductions from Social Security checks for Medicare beneficiaries who have chosen to pay their drug benefit premiums through that payment method, CQ HealthBeat reports.
Last week, UnitedHealth Group sent letters to about 225,000 of its 4.5 million members who are enrolled in Medicare drug plans saying that the letter recipients would be disenrolled because of missed payments if their premiums were not paid by May 31.
UnitedHealth spokesperson Dominick Washington said a small percentage of the beneficiaries who received the letters had elected to have their premium payments deducted from their Social Security checks.
According to a CMS spokesperson, beneficiaries who had signed up for automatic deductions received the letters by mistake because of "coding problems."
On Monday, Harrington said the May 31 deadline for paying the premiums would not apply to beneficiaries who are supposed to have automatic deductions. In addition, Harrington said CMS should have taken more steps to inform beneficiaries that it could take up to two months before the deductions began.
CMS is now urging insurers to encourage new enrollees to pay drug plans directly for the first two months of enrollment, she said. The agency is not aware of other insurers that have sent letters similar to the notices from UnitedHealth, Harrington said.
CMS spokesperson Peter Ashkenaz said drug plans have been paid $80 million in premiums so far through Social Security check deductions. Ashkenaz did not state how much plans were owed because of the delays (Reichard, CQ HealthBeat, 4/25).
Two newspapers on Wednesday examined issues related to the drug benefit. Summaries of the articles appear below.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution: The Journal-Constitution examined how the drug benefit appears to have "arrived at the right time" for some beneficiaries facing high medication costs. However, some problems "have persisted," and "new ones have surfaced," including continuing "[p]ayment glitches" and long waiting times for beneficiaries calling some help centers, the Journal-Constitution reports (Miller, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 4/26).
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: The Post-Gazette examined former U.S. Treasury Secretary and Alcoa Chair Paul O'Neill's criticisms of the drug benefit. O'Neill "touched briefly" on the drug benefit in a recent speech at Duquesne University, saying, "It's the worst piece of social legislation in my lifetime. This thing is just a nightmare" (Snowbeck, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 4/26).
- ABCNews' "World News Tonight" on Tuesday reported on the approaching enrollment deadline for the Medicare prescription drug benefit. The segment includes comments from Edward Langston, board member of the American Medical Association; McClellan; Pollack; U.S. pharmacists; and Medicare beneficiaries (Stark, "World News Tonight," ABCNews, 4/25). Video of the segment is available online.
- WAMU's "The Diane Rehm Show" on Tuesday featured a discussion on the Medicare drug benefit. Guests on the program included CMS Deputy Administrator Leslie Norwalk, Medicare Rights Center President Robert Hayes and National Public Radio health policy correspondent Julie Rovner (Rehm, "The Diane Rehm Show," WAMU, 4/25). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.