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Medicare drug discount card unlikely to provide needed relief

Thursday, April 1, 2004

Medicare drug discount card unlikely to provide needed relief
Consumers Union expert testifies today that program is confusing,
may not adequately promote cheaper generics or lower drug costs

(Washington, D.C.) — The new Medicare drug discount card program is unlikely to provide the needed relief from high prescription drug prices and may lead to confusion and potential victimization of America’s seniors and disabled, Consumers Union told a Congressional subcommittee today.
Gail Shearer, director of health policy analysis, told the Ways and Means Health Subcommittee that the discount drug card program is extremely complicated for seniors, who will be locked into one card even though it is possible the prices and drugs on that card can change each week. There also is uncertainty about how the card will work with existing state discount programs and drug company subsidy programs, she said.
“It is important to remember the characteristics of the population that will be eligible for a discount drug card — people 65 and over and young adults with disabilities,” Shearer said. “The challenges of sorting out the best discount drug card for those who are cognitively impaired, or who may have difficulty reading fine print, may be overwhelming.”
Shearer noted that scam artists already are operating in several states offering phony drug cards in order to obtain personal information. Also, because seniors will primarily be locked into the card they select (able to switch only once during a period in 2004), they may fall victim to “bait-and-switch,” in which they pick a card because it has the drugs they need, but later the card drops those drugs.
“If price changes are large or frequent, or if the drug list drops drugs frequently, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) should consider revoking the approval for a card, while protecting existing enrollees,” Shearer said.
Shearer also told the panel that CMS should aggressively expand the role of generics in the marketplace and police against discount drug cards that steer beneficiaries toward brand name drugs. She also said the government must pursue lower drug prices for all by using the negotiating power of the federal government with drug companies and comparing the effectiveness of alternative drugs in therapeutic categories.
“In light of the fact that high prescription drug prices are denying millions of American access to needed prescription drugs, Congress should take steps to lower prices for all, including those not eligible for Medicare,” she said.
To read her testimony, click here.
For more information contact:
Gail Shearer, 202-462-6262