ince 1995, the Program on Medicare's Future has worked to enhance Medicare's ability to meet the health care needs of the nation's elderly and disabled and to protect the most vulnerable among them from financial hardship. Over the past several years, the program has been monitoring the impact of the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003 as it is implemented, focusing on the Medicare prescription drug benefit and its effects on low-income, chronically ill, and frail beneficiaries. The program also has examined the role of Medicare private plans and supported efforts to improve the quality, effectiveness, and coordination of care provided to beneficiaries.
Medicare is now offering a voluntary prescription drug benefit. Beneficiaries began enrolling in mid-November 2005 and have until May 15, 2006, to choose a drug plan without incurring a penalty. Beneficiaries are being confronted with a wide and potentially confusing array of health plan options, with varying benefit designs and features. The Fund is supporting research to identify areas in which the drug benefit may present problems to certain groups of beneficiaries, particularly those with low incomes or poor health status, and to suggest strategies to ensure that beneficiaries receive the coverage they need.
Recent research demonstrates the challenges that beneficiaries will face. Led by Dana Safran, Ph.D., researchers at Tufts-New England Medical Center, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, and the Fund conducted a survey of more than 17,000 Medicare beneficiaries. The responses indicate that many older adults have complex drug regimens and multiple prescribing physicians and pharmacies, with some obtaining drugs from Canada and Mexico. Among those with three or more chronic conditions, 73 percent reported taking five or more medications and 42 percent spent $100 or more per month on medications. According to the survey, four of 10 seniors do not take all of the drugs prescribed to them, citing cost, side effects, perceived lack of effectiveness, or the belief that the medication was unnecessary.(1)