Drug plan too costly for many

Survey finds 20% in Medicare program go without medicines

August 21, 2007|By Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar | Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- Most seniors who lacked prescription coverage in past years now have it through the Medicare drug benefit, but a survey to be released finds that about 20 percent of enrollees said they had put off or skipped getting some medications because of the program's costs.

The poll of more than 16,000 seniors, published online by the journal Health Affairs, is the closest thing to a report card on one of President Bush's major domestic policy accomplishments. The program, which began last year after being created by a Republican-led Congress, provides prescription coverage through private insurance plans, charging an average monthly premium of about $27.

One reason so many beneficiaries are having difficulty paying for medications is that many low-income seniors apparently are unaware that they can get extra government subsidies to lower their costs, the survey indicated.

Democrats seized on the findings as evidence that the benefit is not working well for the seniors who need it most, those who must take a number of medications.

"It's a system basically designed to create profits for private insurance plans," said Rep. Pete Stark, a California Democrat who is chairman of the House Ways and Means subcommittee on health. "I don't want to see it repealed, but I want to see it repaired."

Researchers involved with the survey said the survey presents a mixed picture.

The program "has helped in expanding coverage to people who didn't have it, and that is a great thing, but there is still work to be done in making medications more affordable for seniors," said Tricia Neuman of the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, one of three groups that collaborated in the study.

Medicare officials had no immediate comment.

The survey found that about 8 percent of seniors remain without coverage, down from one-third a year earlier.

Overall, about half of the 44 million elderly and disabled Medicare beneficiaries were enrolled in the prescription program. The rest of those with drug coverage received their benefits from a former employer or through the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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