The Association of U S West Retirees



Many seniors say Medicare drug plan will not help them
They find myriad options too complex, survey says
By Jeffrey Krasner, Staff Writer
Boston Globe
Friday, November 11, 2005

Seniors are confused about the Medicare prescription drug benefit and nearly half believe it won't help them, according to a survey released yesterday by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The results, coming five days before the enrollment period for new prescription drug plans starts, underscore widespread criticism that the program is too complex for seniors to make intelligent choices about drug coverage.

In Massachusetts alone, about 1 million people are eligible to choose from more than 40 options involving stand-alone drug plans and plans that combine drug coverage with insurance for doctor and hospital care.

''We're less than a week away from enrollment and it's really not clear whether most seniors will jump in the pool or sit on the sidelines," said Drew E. Altman, president of the foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that studies healthcare issues.  ''If it was completed next week, most wouldn't enroll."

The survey of 802 seniors nationwide also found that 37 percent have an unfavorable view of the drug benefit compared to 31 percent who have a favorable view.

And nearly three in four found the number of choices to be a drawback, saying that having many plans to choose from ''makes it confusing and difficult to pick the best plan."

The survey results put the government on the defensive.  Mike Leavitt, secretary of Health and Human Services, and Dr. Mark B. McClellan, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, spent much of a conference call yesterday deflecting criticism from the survey and pointing to another survey they said showed more acceptance of the program, which takes effect in January.

They also pointed out that many seniors participating in the survey may already have prescription drug coverage, and will not need to sign up for a new plan.

''Recent surveys done by CMS and other groups show that awareness of the drug coverage has increased dramatically, more people are talking about the drug coverage with someone they know, and there is strong interest in enrollment, especially among Hispanic and African-Americans," said Roseanne Pawelec, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Those who were already critical of the plan, formally called Medicare Part D, said the survey highlighted the benefit's shortcomings.

''The survey underscores the fundamental flaws of the new Medicare legislation," said Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, a nonprofit, nonpartisan group that works to make high-quality healthcare available for all Americans.  ''Those flaws are producing bewilderment and confusion among seniors and will result in a far more costly program for America's seniors and taxpayers."

Enrollment in the drug program begins Tuesday and extends through May 15.

Seniors have until Dec. 31 to select a plan for coverage beginning Jan. 1.

Medicare said its Web-based plan-finder tool now has complete price and drug selection information.  It says the tool makes it possible to quickly narrow the appropriate choices for a beneficiary.

Altman, the head of the Kaiser foundation, said the six-month enrollment period will determine how the prescription drug benefit will fare.  It is considered one of the Bush administration's most significant domestic policy achievements.

''The success or failure of this law is up for grabs," said Altman.  ''It will depend on the ability of the government and private plans and community organizations to provide one-on-one assistance to 43 million seniors across the country who are struggling with one really big question:  'What does this mean for me and should I enroll?' "

Jeffrey Krasner can be reached at