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Most Seniors Satisfied with Medicare Drug Plans, KFF Study Says

By Sarah Abruzzese, CQ Staff

July 27, 2006 -- Most seniors enrolled in a Medicare drug plan are satisfied with their plans, according to a new survey released Thursday by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Of the 1,585 seniors age 65 and older who took part in the survey, 623 were enrolled in a Medicare Part D drug plan. And while eight out of 10 seniors were satisfied with their plan and three out of four would sign up for the same plan again, almost two of 10 said they had a "major problem" using the plan.

About one-third of seniors who had used their drug plan had problems—18 percent describing those as major and 16 percent said it was minor, according to the report. Those problems include unexpected costs, not getting a prescription from the pharmacy, having to switch drugs because one isn't covered, and not receiving an enrollment card. Drew E. Altman, the foundation's president and chief executive officer, however, said "it bears close monitoring that the sickest seniors are most likely to report problems."

Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, said in a statement released by his office, "Although beneficiaries reported having some problems, the majority also reported that the problems have been resolved." Grassley, the chairman of the Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over Medicare, went on to say that "the survey also helps to identify areas on which we need to continue to work." He added, "We need to make sure beneficiaries know that extra help is available for premiums and cost-sharing. We also need to make sure beneficiaries have the resources they need to make their choice." According to the survey, only a third of seniors said they knew there is a coverage gap or "doughnut hole" to Medicare's drug benefit. Under the drug benefit, Medicare pays 75 percent of drug costs up to $2,250 after an initial $250 deductible. Medicare then pays nothing until the drug expenses exceed $5,100.

Also, two out of three seniors weren't aware that special assistance is available for low-income seniors. And of those seniors who would qualify for the assistance, only 32 percent were aware of the program. CMS spokesman Peter Ashkenaz said the Kaiser survey "shows that a majority of people who are enrolled in the drug plans are satisfied with the program." He said, "We are pleased to see that Medicare beneficiaries are getting more than three million prescriptions filled every day. We will keep working to make sure people will continue to get drugs under this important program."

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