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
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