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Many Medicare recipients could cover premiums by using generic drugs

Thursday, March 2, 2006

Many Medicare Recipients Could Cover Premiums by Switching to Cost-Effective Drugs; Taxpayers Also Could Save

Best Buy Drugs identifies affordable medicines; Alzheimer’s meds latest category

(Washington, D.C.) – Many seniors could save enough money to cover the cost of their Medicare drug benefit premiums if they consider switching to equally effective, lower-cost medicines identified by Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs, according to the latest analysis by Consumers Union.
The report – released today at a symposium on using scientific evidence to identify effective and affordable drugs for consumers – also found that Medicare beneficiaries who take five common drugs could save between $2,300 and $5,000 a year by switching to lower-cost alternatives. Those savings could prevent seniors from falling into the ‘doughnut hole’ coverage gap, which requires beneficiaries to pay for drugs out-of-pocket once their total drug costs reach $2,250. The report looked at Medicare drug coverage in six markets throughout the country.
“Some seniors may not be signing up for Medicare drug coverage because they are uncertain about saving money,” said Gail Shearer, director of the Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs program. “It’s important seniors know that they can significantly stretch their prescription drug dollars under Medicare if they first consider cost-effective medicines.”
Those savings also translate to taxpayers. For example, if all Medicare beneficiaries taking statin drugs to lower cholesterol switched to generics, the savings to taxpayers and consumers could be about $8 billion a year starting in 2007, or up to 10 percent of the Medicare drug plan’s estimated overall expenditures over the next decade.
“There are real savings for both patients and taxpayers if medicines are prescribed based on their effectiveness and track record, not on advertising campaigns and marketing,” Shearer said.
The symposium, featuring Sen. Hillary Clinton, Medicare administrator Mark McClellan and Michael McGinnis, senior scholar at the Institute of Medicine, is available to view by clicking here.
Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs is a free, public education project that uses the available scientific evidence to identify effective and affordable medications. It was created in part to counter pharmaceutical industry marketing that promotes the newest – but not necessarily most effective – drugs. It identifies Best Buys to help consumers consult with their doctors about lowering their drug costs. Drug reports, as well as the Medicare drug analysis, can be found at www.CRBestBuyDrugs.org.
Twelve drug categories have been analyzed to date, including medicines to treat high cholesterol, arthritis pain, menopause, and migraines. The latest report on Alzheimer’s medications, released today, identifies three Best Buys based on evidence of their effectiveness, side effects, tolerability, flexibility of use, and cost.
The Alzheimer’s disease Best Buy Drugs are:
Donepezil (Aricept) and Galantamine (Razadyne) – for people with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease
Memantine (Namenda) – for people with middle-stage and late-stage Alzheimer’s disease
The new analysis found that medicines used to slow mental decline in people with Alzheimer’s disease are not particularly effective. When compared to a placebo, only 10 percent to 20 percent more people taking an Alzheimer’s drug seem to benefit. And it is the rare person who has a significant delay in the worsening of their symptoms over time.
The report concludes there is no way as yet to predict who will respond and who will get little or no benefit from one of the five drugs approved to treat Alzheimer’s disease. Thus, the decision to try one is a judgment based on whether the treatment is worth the cost and the risk of side effects. Alzheimer’s disease drugs cost an average $148 to $195 a month.
The Medicare savings analysis looked at five commonly used categories of medicines – those to treat high cholesterol, high blood pressure, post-heart attack care, arthritis pain, and depression. Seniors switching to Best Buys for these drugs could save from $2,300 to $5,000 a year, depending on what Medicare drug plan they buy and where they live. The report looked at plans in Arizona, California, Georgia, Maryland, Minnesota and Pennsylvania.
Even if a Medicare recipient enrolled in a drug program switched just one higher-priced medication to a Best Buy, the savings could equal $350 to $800 a year, enough to cover the cost of the premium in most cases.
Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs is a grant-funded public information project administered by Consumers Union. The reports are based on an independent, scientific review of available medical evidence by the Drug Effectiveness Review Project, a 15-state initiative based at the Oregon Health & Science University. The initiative compares drugs on effectiveness and safety for state Medicaid programs. Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs combines those reviews with available medical and pricing information to identify Best Buys in each category.
Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs is designed to help patients – in consultation with their doctors – find effective, safe, and affordable medicines. The project is supported by the Engelberg Foundation, a private philanthropy, and the National Library of Medicine of the National Institutes of Health.

Contact: Susan Herold, CU, 202-462-6262