Maybe there’s some benefit to Medicare plan

Helen Palmer Sep 29, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: Medicare launched its drug benefit a year ago. Amid warnings of mammoth administrative snafus. And huge gaps in coverage for seniors. Some of that came true. But today the Bush Administration released details of next year’s benefits. And that had Medicare officials doing a victory dance. Helen Palmer reports from the Marketplace Health Desk at WGBH.

HELEN PALMER: Medicare’s Leslie Norwalk says seniors with the drug benefit can look forward to a fabulous deal next year.

LESLIE NORWALK: It’s terrific news. The average monthly premium is $24 for a beneficiary, so most beneficiaries will not see an increase in their premiums and some of them will even see a decrease in their premiums if they stay with their plan.

Norwalk says seniors will find more plans to choose from in 2007 — and they can expect to save $1,200 on average from their drug bill.

STUART ALTMAN: You have to give the Administration and the people that have been working on this program credit for doing a good job.

Stuart Altman teaches health policy at Brandeis University. The problems haven’t gone away though, he says, the program’s still too complicated.

And, says Deane Beebe of the Medicare Rights Center, seniors complain about the coverage gap when they have to pay 100 percent of their drug cost.

DEANE BEEBE: We hear from many, many people who have fallen into the coverage gap, they can’t get the drugs they need, and they don’t have the money to get out of it.

Many more plans next hear will eliminate the coverage gap — but at a cost. The premium for a plan just to buy generic drugs will be about $45 a month. Most seniors just can’t afford that, says Beebe. And they don’t want lots of drug plans to choose from.

BEEBE: They’re looking for one, guaranteed, affordable plan that will work when they hit the drug stores.

Beebe says this just isn’t it. And since plans change from year to year, seniors need to check carefully in case their plan no longer covers the drugs they need.

In Boston, I’m Helen Palmer for Marketplace.

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