Friday, April 28, 2006


Medicare Part D Problems Increase

Here’s a follow-up on yesterday’s posts about Medicare. The new drug program just doesn’t work right—sort of like FEMA. And, yes, I’m one of those who was switched from a Medicaid-funded program to Part D., and I pay for the prescriptions: not much, but it hurts.

Yahoo! News
1 in 5 pay more in Medicare Rx plan;_ylt=AuBlAWTBg.9UVVtIsA.HyHnfB2YD;_ylu=X3oDMTA3MXN1bHE0BHNlYwN0bWE-
By Richard Wolf, USA TODAYThu Apr 27, 7:09 AM ET

Medicare's new prescription-drug program has increased out-of-pocket costs for about one in five participants, causing some to risk their health by reducing or eliminating medications.

Though most of the more than 30 million beneficiaries enrolled in the program are saving money, two recent surveys suggest a substantial minority of seniors and people with disabilities are not:

• A Kaiser Family Foundation poll taken April 6-11 found 55% of 154 seniors who had enrolled said the plan would save them money, 19% said it would cost more, and another 19% said they would break even.

• A KRC Research poll taken March 15-20 for the Medicare Rx Education Network, a consortium of groups working to implement the law, found 59% of 201 enrolled seniors saved money, but 23% did not.

Both polls rely on small samples of beneficiaries and have large margins of error: +/-8 percentage points for the Kaiser poll, for example. But they confirm what had been predicted about the program since it went into effect Jan. 1: There are millions for whom the plan is increasing drug costs.

Among them: most of the 6.4 million low-income people transferred from state Medicaid drug programs. Most had no co-payments for drugs under Medicaid but now pay $1 to $5 per drug.

Others include those who used to get drugs for free from drug companies or at reduced cost in state programs; those who had less expensive employer retiree coverage; and those with little or no current drug expenses who signed up for a Medicare plan as a hedge against future costs.

That last group is paying premiums but getting little or no benefit. Premiums will rise after the May 15 sign-up deadline for those not yet enrolled.

Medicare officials acknowledge that many low-income seniors and disabled Americans are paying more. They are urging drug companies and states to continue assistance to the poor who rely on expensive medications.

"Any extra help they need can and should be provided by those other sources," says Kathleen Harrington, director of external affairs at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

In one case, a 59-year-old Newburgh, N.Y., man died in March after he stopped taking medications he could no longer afford, according to his pharmacist and his cousin. Eddie Rosa, whose death was first reported by the Middletown, N.Y., Times Herald-Record, lived alone and suffered from heart disease, diabetes, seizures and other mental and physical conditions.

Despite those illnesses, his pharmacist, Marty Irons, says, "I really think he'd be alive today if he had all his medicines." Adds his cousin, Dolores Reano, "When Medicare came in, it just blew him away."

When the Medicare drug program went into effect, Steve Worrell, 53, of Black Hawk, Colo., lost the free medications he had been getting from a drug company for his disabling arthritis. Faced with a $5,400 annual bill under Medicare, he spaced out his injections. His condition worsened. "You start swelling up, and you start twisting more," he says.

Maria Oranje of Oakley, Calif., who turned 100 on Wednesday, is luckier. She takes 26 medications, but since she was switched from Medicaid to the Medicare program in January, her co-payments have been picked up by her daughter, Greta Heartfill, 62.

"If it wasn't for her living with me (and me) taking care of all this stuff," Heartfill says of her mother, "she would not have been able to make it."

Copyright © 2006 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.
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