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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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Friday, July 9, 2004


Medicare drug discount cards benefit Idaho seniors, save money

Guest opinion by John Rusche, M.D.

Dr. John Rusche is the Chief Medical Officer for Regence BlueShield of Idaho.

While there has been much "glass is half-empty" news coverage lately of the Medicare prescription drug discount card program approved by Congress late last year, this landmark program actually represents a huge step forward in health care for the disabled and elderly, some of the most vulnerable people in Idaho.

The senior population in Idaho grew nearly 7 percent from April 2000 to July 2003. That rate of growth makes Idaho’s senior population the fourth fastest growing in the nation. As the number of seniors in Idaho continues to grow from the current nearly 178,000, the availability of drug discount cards for seniors and the disabled will provide an important health care benefit.

On June 1, Idaho seniors who have already signed up for the drug discount cards were able to begin using them. For brand-name drugs in retail pharmacies the cards will offer discounts of 15 percent, or more, below average wholesale prices, and 11 to 17 percent below the retail price of most drugs. The cards will provide significantly larger discounts on mail-order drugs and will commonly exceed savings available on Internet sites.

Savings on generic drugs will range from 30 to 60 percent below retail prices. It is important to note that the drug discount card program is an interim measure until the Medicare prescription drug program is fully implemented in two years.

Beginning in 2006, all Idaho Medicare beneficiaries will be eligible to get prescription drug coverage through a Medicare-approved plan. It will be the first time in the history of the Medicare program that such a benefit has been available. In exchange for a monthly premium of $35, seniors who are now paying the full retail price for prescription drugs, may be able to cut their drug costs by as much as half. In many cases, seniors will save more than 50 percent on what they currently pay for prescription medicines.

The greatest benefits will go to Medicare recipients with incomes of less than $12,123 ($16,362 for couples) who lack prescription drug coverage (including drug coverage under Medicaid). These Idahoans will receive up to $600 in annual assistance to help them afford their medicines, plus a discount on purchases with the discount card. It is less clear how valuable the discount cards will be to people who have higher incomes.

What is important, however, is that information provided by Medicare will let all Medicare recipients compare the prices they would pay for prescriptions depending on which drug discount card they use at either pharmacies or for mail-order services.

To find out how to get the most out of the Medicare-approved drug card program, seniors can call 1-800-MEDICARE or visit www.medicare.gov on the Internet. Seniors are able to find out which cards are available in their area and which card best fits their needs by merely starting with their ZIP code and the list of drugs they use.

The members of Idaho’s congressional delegation deserve our thanks for supporting legislation to bring prescription drug coverage to Idaho’s seniors and the disabled. The Medicare prescription drug program represents a critical first step towards modernizing our health care system and ensuring equal access to care for the elderly and the disabled across Idaho.


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The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.