In the past year, the Fund has remained dedicated to protecting the most vulnerable of beneficiaries, including "dual eligibles," or elderly and disabled Americans enrolled in both Medicare and Medicaid. With Medicaid prescription drug coverage expiring on December 31, 2005, it will be crucial to ensure the continued protection of Medicaid enrollees as they move into Medicare drug plans.
Findings from a Fund-supported study of more than 3,000 of Maryland's dual eligibles indicated that the transition to the new prescription benefit could put these beneficiaries at risk. Charles J. Milligan, Jr., J.D., who conducted the study, recommended a number of federal policy changes, including allowing for 90-day prescriptions, expanding the enrollment period, and using open or shared formularies.(10)
Nearly 6 million Americans qualify for Medicare because of severe and permanent disabilities. These beneficiaries must undergo a two-year waiting period prior to enrolling in Medicare. In a study cosponsored by the Fund and the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation, Bob Williams and others conducted focus groups and in-depth interviews with individuals in the Medicare two-year waiting period.(11)
They found that the waiting period decreases access to medical care and other services, which in turn can lead to physical and mental deterioration and the inability to lead productive and full lives. For example, many respondents felt they needed better access to health services in order to begin working again, and only two of 21 reported working at all. The Alliance for Health Reform, the Fund, and the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation held a briefing to highlight the challenges that disabled Americans face during the waiting period.