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Setting the Record Straight: USA Today's Misleading Medicare Story

May 09, 2006

Millions Of Minorities Are Enrolling In Medicare Drug Coverage

USA Today Claims "Poor, Often Minority" Medicare Beneficiaries Are Not Enrolling In Medicare Drug Coverage. "While millions of seniors and people with disabilities are signing up and saving money, the program is being used least by those who could benefit most: poor, often minority Medicare beneficiaries." (Richard Wolf, "Those Most In Need May Miss Drug Benefit Sign-up," USA Today, 5/9/06)

But By April, More Than 70 Percent Of Eligible African Americans, More Than 70 Percent Of Eligible Hispanics, And More Than 75 Percent Of Eligible Asian Americans Are Enrolled Or Have Retiree Drug Coverage.

  • And More Than 9 Million Medicare Beneficiaries Have Other Forms Of Coverage. Altogether, more than 9 million Medicare beneficiaries (over 20 percent of Medicare beneficiaries) - have coverage from sources including Tricare, the Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) program, the Veterans Administration or other forms of creditable coverage.

Low Income Beneficiaries Who Qualify For Medicare's Limited-Income Subsidy (LIS) After May 15 Will Be Able To Enroll With No Penalty. About 3 million beneficiaries who have not yet enrolled are eligible for the LIS. A one-time opportunity using a special enrollment period will enable these beneficiaries to enroll in a Medicare prescription drug plan immediately after they become eligible for the limited-income subsidy, even if this is after May 15. The extra help available through the LIS allows for comprehensive and valuable drug coverage - in most cases costing beneficiaries a few dollars for every prescription.

Medicare Is Aggressively Reaching Out To All Eligible Beneficiaries

USA Today Says Most Eligible Beneficiaries Who Have Not Yet Enrolled "Haven't Been Reached." (Richard Wolf, "Those Most In Need May Miss Drug Benefit Sign-up," USA Today, 5/9/06)

But The President Met Directly With Leaders Of Senior, Disability, And Minority Groups At The White House On March 14 To Discuss Strategies For Reaching All Seniors. The President met with organizations including the National Alliance for Hispanic Health, the National Council on Aging (NCOA), the NAACP, the AARP, Seniors Health Insurance Information Program (SHIIP), and the National Baptist Convention.

Medicare Is Continuing To Work With Many Groups To Reach Hispanic Seniors Across Our Nation. The Administration Is Working With the National Alliance for Hispanic Health, the Hispanic Business Roundtable, the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders. The Administration has also reached out through public-service announcements on Univision, Telemundo, and Spanish radio. As a result, we are getting hundreds of enrollments each day through 1-800-MEDICARE and the National Alliance's "Su Familia" helpline.

  • Over 600 Enrollment Events Have Been Held In Spanish. These events have been held in conjunction with Medicare's thousands of Hispanic community grassroots partners and national partners, including the National Alliance for Hispanic Health, the National Association for Hispanic Elderly, and the National Hispanic Council on Aging.
  • Tomorrow, President Bush Will Participate In A Hispanic Medicare Outreach Event In Orlando, Florida. "The president's quick stop at the Asociacion Borinquena de Florida Central could get the attention of many Hispanic elders who qualify for new drug benefits but have not applied for them as a May 15 deadline nears." (Victor Manuel Ramos, "Club To Welcome President," Sun-Sentinel [Ft. Lauderdale, FL], 5/9/06)

Medicare's Partners In The African American Community Have Sponsored Numerous Events To Both Educate And Enroll African Americans. These partners include the National Medical Association, the National Council on Black Aged, the NAACP, the national fraternity and sorority organizations, and the many leaders in the faith based community.

Medicare Is Taking Steps To Reach The Asian American Community. To reach the Asian American community, Medicare sponsored telephone lines in conjunction with the National Asian Pacific Center on Aging in three languages: Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese. To date, over 28,000 Asian American beneficiaries have received personalized assistance through these help lines, which have been advertised broadly in their communities. In April, President Bush and Secretary Chao participated in an Asian American outreach event in Annandale, Virginia.

Medicare Drug Coverage Is Helping Low-Income Beneficiaries

The Families USA Report Cited By USA Today Claims "The Poorest Of The Poor ... Have Worse Drug Coverage Today Than They Had Before The New Medicare Part D Program Began In January." (Families USA, "The Medicare Drug Program Fails to Reach Low-Income Seniors," May 2006)

But Medicare Provides Extra Help For Beneficiaries With Limited Income And Resources. About a third of seniors are eligible for prescription drug coverage that includes little or no premiums, low deductibles, and no gaps in coverage. On average, Medicare will pay for more than 95 percent of the costs of prescription drugs for low-income seniors.

The Families USA Report Incorrectly Suggests That Medicare Beneficiaries Previously Receiving Drug Coverage Under Medicaid ("Full-Benefit Dual Eligibles") Will Not Be Helped By The Change To Part D Drug Coverage. (Families USA, "The Medicare Drug Program Fails to Reach Low-Income Seniors," May 2006)

But All Full-Benefit Dual Eligibles Get Comprehensive Drug Coverage And Millions Of Full-Benefit Dual Eligibles Are Better Off Because:

  • They Have Access To Plans That Are Required To Have Broad Drug Lists (Formularies) Which Are More Extensive In Many States Than The "Preferred Drug Lists" Used By Many States. For example, all drugs for mental illness, HIV/AIDS, and immune-related conditions are covered.
  • They Are No Longer Subject To Restrictions On The Number Of Prescriptions They Can Fill. One in four states has restrictions in their Medicaid program on the number of prescriptions covered each month.
  • They Are Protected From Any Out-Of-Pocket Expenses (Even The $1 And $3 Copays) When Total Drug Spending On Their Behalf Exceeds $5,100 A Year. With an average cost of $100 per prescription, this would occur after 51 prescriptions and a total beneficiary expense for the year of only around $100.
  • They Are No Longer Subject To Intermittent Eligibility Because Of Monthly "Spend Down" And Eligibility Determination Requirements. Part D gives these beneficiaries full continuity of their coverage throughout the year.
  • Some States Are Using A Portion Of Their Savings From Medicaid To Pay The $1 Or $3 Drug Copayments For Dually Eligible Beneficiaries. This means the state has savings, and beneficiaries have the same or lower copays than before.

George W. Bush, Setting the Record Straight: USA Today's Misleading Medicare Story Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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