The response of seniors to the Medicare-endorsed private
prescription drug discount cards so far has been less than
enthusiastic. When the card program went into operation June
1, just under 2.9 million seniors had cards in handfar below
the 7.3 million that the Bush Administration had suggested
would be enrolled.
"It's been a very slow uptake," said Tim Dickman, chief
executive officer, Prime Therapeutics. AARP, for example, sent
out 26,000 enrollment kits to members and had only 400
sign-ups by June 1. With dozens of cards to choose from,
"people are still very confused," explained Eileen Doherty,
executive director of the Colorado Gerontological Society. "A
lot of people come away with, 'It's not worth my time and
energy to do this.'"
There's even less support for the discount cards than the
raw numbers suggest. Only about 500,000 of the 2.9 million
actually signed up for a card. The rest were issued cards
automatically by the Medicare managed care plans in which they
were already enrolled.
The Bush Administration seems to have abandoned its 7.3
million cardholder projection. Mark McClellan, head of the
Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), now talks
in terms of "hundreds of thousands" more enrollees. To reach
that goal, CMS is looking to follow the lead of private
Medicare HMOs and rely on automatic enrollment to boost the
numbers. In a June 8 testimony, McClellan told the Senate
Finance Committee that he expects to get 400,000 more
cardholders through automatic enrollment of seniors already
participating in state drug-purchasing assistance programs in
Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey,
Pennsylvania, and Michigan.
HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson insisted that the program
already is "successful" because every cardholder has a chance
to save money on prescriptions that he or she did not have
before. CMS reported on June 7 that an analysis of the card
prices of 5 drugs (enalapril, furosemide, metformin,
lisinopril, and warfarin) in Albuquerque, NM, and Little Rock,
Ark, showed that if seniors used the cards and opted for
generic forms of their medications, they could reap savings of
as much as 92% off the list price of brand-name drugs.
More Medicare beneficiaries are expected to ask for cards
now that the program is fully operational. A Walgreens
spokesman observed that "there is a momentum building," noting
that enrollment in the chain's card plan surged in the final
days of May.