Wall Street Journal Examines Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit
The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday examined issues related to the launch of the new Medicare prescription drug benefit and the advice provided to beneficiaries. According to the latest government estimates, between 11 and 23 different companies -- ranging from national health insurers such as Humana to small regional providers -- will offer stand-alone drug benefits to beneficiaries, depending on where they live. Enrollment in the new benefit will begin Nov. 15, and CMS in mid-October is planning to launch a Web site that will help beneficiaries choose a plan.
However, some health policy experts continue to express concern about the number of choices seniors will face. "The question is: Will seniors be so overwhelmed by all these choices that they throw up their hands and say, 'Forget about it'?" Tricia Neuman, a Kaiser Family Foundation vice president and director of its Medicare Policy Project, said.
According to the Journal, beneficiaries considering enrolling in a Medicare drug plan should consider a number of factors, such as timing -- there will be financial penalties for beneficiaries who enroll after the May 15 deadline -- and costs, including deductibles, premiums and copayments that will vary by plan. The Journal also recommended that beneficiaries find out whether former employers will continue to provide retiree prescription drug benefits and whether alternatives such as Medicare Advantage plans or Medigap provide superior coverage to stand-alone PDPs (Lueck, Wall Street Journal, 9/14).
Meanwhile, the high costs associated with relief and recovery efforts in the wake of Hurricane Katrina are casting doubt on lawmakers' efforts to reverse a scheduled 4.3% reduction in Medicare physician payments. Reversing the cut, which is scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, 2006, will cost between $153 billion and $183 billion over 10 years. Many physicians have said they will stop treating Medicare beneficiaries if Congress does not act to reverse the cut. A spokesperson for the American Medical Association said, "Our concerns about seniors' access to care during six years of Medicare payment cuts remain a priority. We will keep working with lawmakers to fix this problem before the cuts go into effect Jan. 1."
Several Senate staffers and aides have questioned whether Congress will be willing or able to reverse the payment reduction. However, Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said he and Senate Finance Committee Chair Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) are "not going to let those cuts go into effect this year" (CQ HealthBeat, 9/13).
Additional information on the Medicare drug benefit is available online.