State Prescription Drug Assistance Programs Reach Few Medicare Beneficiaries, Study Finds
State prescription drug assistance programs currently serve only 1.2 million, or 3%, of the nation's 39 million Medicare beneficiaries, according to a new Commonwealth Fund study that concludes that a federal Medicare drug benefit is needed to fill the gaps left by these programs. The report, which is based on a survey of pharmacy assistance programs in 2000, recommends that any federal initiative be coordinated with the 28 state programs currently in place. "Some states have been working for years on reducing the high cost of prescription drugs for low-income beneficiaries," Commonwealth Fund President Karen Davis said. But she added that "[w]ithout a Medicare prescription drug benefit, state programs are unlikely to reach significant numbers of those at risk for burdensome out-of-pocket prescription expenses" (Commonwealth Fund release, 5/16). The study comes as Democrats and Republicans work to develop Medicare drug benefit proposals. Senate Democrats have proposed a $425 billion, five-year plan, and House Republicans are crafting a 10-year, $350 billion benefit as part of their Medicare reform package (California Healthline, 5/8). Illustrating the limited scope of state prescription drug programs, the study found that three states -- New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania -- account for about 75% of overall state spending on prescription drug programs (Commonwealth Fund release, 5/16). "It is clear that these programs are far from constituting a national drug safety net," the report states (Fox et al., "State Pharmacy Assistance Programs: Alternative Approaches to Program Design," May 2002). Still, study lead author Stephen Crystal of the Rutgers Center for State Health Policy said, "The experience gained by states can be of great value in design of a national program" (Commonwealth Fund release, 5/16).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.