Number Of US Residents Enrolled In Medicare Prescription Drug Plans Increases

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Medicare Prescription Drug Plans

Acting CMSAdministrator Kerry Weems on Thursday announced that enrollment in the Medicareprescription drug benefit in 2008 increased by 6.2% from last year to 25.4million beneficiaries, Bloomberg/Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

Among the overall 44.2 million Medicare beneficiaries, 17.4 million haveenrolled in stand-alone prescription drug plans and eight million have enrolledin Medicare Advantage plans, according to CMS. In addition, 14.2 millionMedicare beneficiaries receive prescription drug coverage through retirement,veterans or other programs, CMS said (Goldstein, Bloomberg/PhiladelphiaInquirer, 2/1). According to CMS, more than 39 million Medicarebeneficiaries, or 90%, have prescription drug coverage through the prescriptiondrug benefit or some other source (Carey, CQ HealthBeat, 1/31).

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Weems also said that the estimated cost of the Medicare prescription drugbenefit through 2017 decreased by $117 billion from an estimate last year (Bloomberg/PhiladelphiaInquirer, 2/1). The Medicare prescription drug benefit will cost an estimated$243.7 billion through 2017, CMS said (CQ HealthBeat, 1/31). Inaddition, Weems said that Medicare prescription drug spending in 2008 willdecrease to $36 billion from $40.5 billion last year.

Weems attributed the reduction in the estimated cost of the Medicareprescription drug benefit to "slowing of drug cost trends, lower estimatesof drug plan spending and higher rebates from drug makers." He added,"It's rare to see continued cost reductions in a program, particularly oneof this complexity" (Bloomberg/Philadelphia Inquirer, 2/1).

House Waysand Means Health Subcommittee Chair Pete Stark (D-Calif.)in astatement said that CMS is not doing enough to enroll low-income Medicarebeneficiaries eligible for subsidies, adding, "Lower costs don't prove theprogram is working if beneficiaries are not getting the medications that theyneed." Robert Hayes, president of the Medicare Rights Center, said, "The administrationsets a very low bar for success. To say that this benefit is costing less thansome projections may be true -- it says nothing about how much money continuesto be wasted and how many people continue to be ill served" (CQ HealthBeat,1/31).

Reprintedwith permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, search the archives, and sign upfor email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email . The Kaiser Daily Health PolicyReport is published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The Henry J.Kaiser Family Foundation.

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