Saturday, January 10, 2004

Seniority: Two Holes in the Medicare Drug Law/

Finally, somebody is asking the questions that need to be asked about the Medicare reform law signed by
Dubyah last month. In an article in today's NY Times, Fred Brock asks:
What impact will it have on pharmaceutical companies' programs that offer free drugs to low-income people, including those on Medicare? Why does the law prohibit beneficiaries from buying private insurance to cover the considerable gaps in coverage?
As for the first question:
The drug companies themselves are struggling with the first question, as is their trade group in Washington, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. But one thing is clear: if the companies do not change their requirements by 2006, thousands of older low-income Americans will lose access to free or nearly free drugs. That's because participants in the programs generally must not have any drug coverage or access to it. Of course, they will have access to drug coverage in 2006 - although with coverage gaps that could cost thousands of dollars a year.

The free-drug programs are crucial for many recipients. The income limits are not that strict: in some cases, people earning up to $50,000 a year can qualify. The drugs are commonly dispensed through doctors or via discount cards; patients usually have to requalify regularly and apply separately to each company that makes the drugs they need.
I am particularly interested in that second question:
The prohibition against buying private insurance, meanwhile, will hit middle-income people the hardest. "Many people will be forced to put out their own money, even if they want to buy insurance," Mr. Hayes [president of the nonprofit Medicare Rights Group] said.

A report accompanying the final Medicare bill when it was passed last year said the insurance prohibition was to keep beneficiaries from becoming "insensitive to costs." Well, if your mother needs a prescription, her "sensitivity" is not going to lessen her need, but the cost may lessen her ability to buy it. And why shouldn't she be allowed to buy private insurance to help if she wants to? By that logic, should we prohibit auto insurance to make people sensitive to high repair costs?

Some administration and Congressional officials argue that older Americans would consume less health care if they had to pay more for it, so the government would save money. Maybe, but what are the health consequences?

Deane Beebe, a spokeswoman for the Medicare Rights Center, said: "The whole concept is based on the idea that people will use too much medication if they have coverage. We're really troubled by that."

Mr. Hayes added, "There is something very unrealistic about politicians who think that people will rush off to take prescription medication they don't need."
Hayes believes that the prohibition might be eliminated before 2006, partly because of pressure from insurance companies that want to sell the coverage. "A lot of people who voted for this bill," he said, "had no clue about this provision."
posted by tommayo, 10:58 PM

Health care law (including public health law, medical ethics, and life sciences), with digressions into constitutional law, poetry, and other things that matter