Some Beneficiaries Satisfied With Medicare Part D
Some Medicare beneficiaries are satisfied with the new Medicare drug benefit and "say it was worth wading through the confusion and complexity of the new program to enroll," the New York Times reports. According to the Treasury Department, Medicare spent $5.1 billion on prescription drugs for beneficiaries in January and February, paying for more than a million prescriptions daily.
Beneficiaries who report the highest rates of satisfaction with the program include those who are "far removed from the raucous debate in Washington" and who live in states such as Oklahoma that did not have "generous state-financed programs to help them with their drug costs," the Times reports. In addition, most who report satisfaction with the benefit have remained in the plan in which they originally enrolled; received help choosing a plan from Medicare experts, insurance counselors and relatives; and are not enrolled in Medicaid and thus were not switched automatically to Medicare drug coverage.
The Times reports that beneficiaries who are successfully receiving their medications under the program can save thousands of dollars annually. For instance, one couple in Tulsa, Okla., reduced their combined annual drug costs from more than $25,000 to $4,900 after enrolling in the Medicare drug benefit.
Dr. Jean Root, a geriatrician in Tulsa, said that beneficiaries with the education and perseverance to navigate the enrollment process are the most likely to be satisfied with the system. By contrast, those who are dissatisfied often have "dementia and terminal illnesses" and "don't have the energy, the interest or the mental capacity to work through the system," Root said (Pear, New York Times, 3/26).
Elderly immigrants in California and other areas with large immigrant populations are "swamping clinics, community centers and pharmacies, unable to read the litany of Medicare-related mailings or even ask questions about their new plans," the Los Angeles Times reports.
According to the Los Angeles Times, with the May 15 deadline for enrollment nearing, many elderly immigrants are finding that private health insurers and Medicare officials do not have the capacity to accommodate translation requests, and some who have lived and worked in the U.S. "for years resent feeling excluded from a national program." Jeanne Finberg, an attorney for the National Senior Citizens Law Center, said, "The federal government has really failed this population," adding, "How outrageous is it that so many of the Medicare beneficiaries are unable to understand any part of this program?"
Medicare officials last week said they are performing outreach at senior centers that serve non-English speakers and are funding toll-free call lines that cater to native Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean speakers. "We have room for improvement," Anne Avery, a health insurance specialist for Medicare, said, adding, "We are just starting a lot more to find out what vehicles we can use to reach out to these people." CMS spokesperson Peter Ashkenaz said private health insurers providing Medicare drug plans must accommodate non-English-speaking callers.
A spokesperson for WellPoint, whose Unicare call center was unable to provide translation services to some callers late last week, said supervisors at call centers have been reminded of the company's policy to provide live interpretation services (Lin, Los Angeles Times, 3/27).