Skip to main content

Advanced Search

Advanced Search

Current Filters

Filter your query

Publication Types



Newsletter Article


Feds Say Enrollment Numbers Show Drug Plan on Track

DECEMBER 22, 2005 -- More than 1 million Medicare beneficiaries have signed up for the program's new prescription drug benefit since the enrollment period began last month and another 500,000 are expected to be enrolled by the end of January, government officials said Thursday.

Those Medicare beneficiaries join more than 19 million others who have been enrolled in the drug benefit through their Medicare Advantage plan, by their employer as part of retiree health care coverage, or through an automatic government enrollment plan for Medicare beneficiaries who also qualify for Medicaid. The figure also includes retirees from Tricare, the Defense Department's health care system, and the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program, which covers federal government employees.

Ron Pollack, executive director of the consumers group Families USA, called the government announcement "extraordinarily misleading" and "designed to mask the fact that only 1 million seniors have actually enrolled so far in the new Medicare prescription drug program."

Medicare drug plan enrollment for the program's more than 40 million beneficiaries began Nov. 15 and ends on May 15. Government officials said they expect a spike in enrollment close to that May deadline.

"The new prescription drug benefit is off to a strong start," said Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Michael O. Leavitt. "With more than 21 million participating in coverage as of Jan. 1, we are well on the way of meeting our goal of 28 to 30 million enrolled in the first year of the program."

The Medicare drug plan enrollment figures, which government officials plan to update each month, also show that employers are not dropping health care coverage for retirees, which had been feared. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Mark B. McClellan told reporters that a "very high percentage" of employers were applying for the federal subsidy provided in the drug law to encourage employers to keep offering retiree health care coverage after the drug law begins Jan. 1.

"Just about everybody with very good retiree coverage is continuing it and getting help from Medicare in one way or another," McClellan said. "It's a very big number of retirees, more than people expected in their projections last year."

A survey released earlier this month by the Kaiser Family Foundation and Hewitt Associates found that four of five employers that now provide retiree health benefits were planning to accept government subsidies for continuing to provide retiree drug coverage at least as good as Medicare's coverage.

"There is no question that the coverage options and financial incentives now available under Medicare have been one of the few encouraging notes for retiree health coverage in a very long time," said James A. Klein, president of the American Benefits Council, which represents sponsors and administrators of retirement, health, and stock compensation plans.

Not all health analysts were as optimistic in their review of the drug plan enrollment figures. Robert M. Hayes, president of the Medicare Rights Center, a New York–based elderly advocacy group, said the government figures show that less than five percent of people who could voluntary choose a prescription drug plan have done so. "People with Medicare are frustrated and bewildered about a program that is needlessly complex and unreliable," Hayes said.

Publication Details