Making the Medicare Drug Benefit Work Better

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With the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit now well into its second year, perhaps the most critical question facing the new program is how some of the frailest, sickest, and most vulnerable beneficiaries are faring.

In a new Commonwealth Fund report, Improving the Medicare Part D Program for the Most Vulnerable Beneficiaries, Georgetown University's Laura Summer and colleagues discuss some of the challenges faced by this group of beneficiaries and make specific recommendations to strengthen Part D.

The Medicare prescription drug benefit has improved access to needed medications for millions of Americans. At the same time, an estimated 3.3 million of the 13.2 million beneficiaries eligible for a low-income subsidy to help pay for premiums and medication copayments are not receiving that help. The complexity of Part D poses additional challenges for "dual eligibles" — Medicare beneficiaries who also qualify for Medicaid benefits.

Administrators must find better ways, the report finds, to reach out to these beneficiaries, simplify the enrollment process, and provide hands-on assistance in navigating that process.