Many seniors say Medicare drug plan will not help them
They find myriad options too complex, survey says
By Jeffrey Krasner, Staff Writer
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
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
''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
''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 email@example.com.