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August 17th, 2011

Growing older is easier with Medicare Part D



Larry Lucas

When I was younger, I was taught to respect my elders. Now that I’m one of those "elders," I’m grateful to know that so many abide by the same maxim. It’s not always fun growing older, but thanks to widespread support for the Medicare Part D prescription drug program, it’s certainly a bit easier to swallow.

Part D has been a huge success since its creation in 2006. For one thing, it’s far more cost effective for the federal government than initially anticipated. The Medicare Trustees have stated that spending related to Part D is more than 40 percent lower than their initial 10-year estimate. What’s more, the Congressional Budget Office recently lowered its 10-year projection of federal spending on Medicare, noting that the majority of the reduction – roughly $120 billion - is the result of lower-than-expected Part D spending.

But the real success of the Part D program comes from the relief it provides to seniors across the country. More than 40 million people have received comprehensive prescription drug coverage from Part D. And, most importantly, they’re overwhelmingly satisfied with the coverage they receive: A survey conducted last fall by Medicare Today found that 84 percent of seniors report being happy with the prescription drug coverage their Part D programs provide.

Such widespread satisfaction comes as no surprise when you consider the record access seniors now have to affordable medicines thanks to Part D - particularly in light of last year’s Affordable Care Act (ACA), which included provisions aimed at helping seniors afford the drugs they need. Specifically, the biopharmaceutical industry is working to help policymakers close the infamous "donut hole," the gap in drug coverage that has troubled seniors in the past. Now, America’s biopharmaceutical companies are providing a 50 percent discount on brand-name prescription drugs for seniors who are eligible. These discounts have only been in effect since January, and already American seniors have saved north of $160 million as a result. Because of the provisions outlined in the ACA, the donut hole is expected to close completely by 2020.

This is a serious and welcome relief for all seniors, but especially for those with chronic diseases who require long-term, daily drug therapies to lead healthy lives. Because some chronic illnesses such as diabetes and cancer are particularly prevalent among African Americans, this is great news for seniors in our community. But there are more benefits for seniors from the Affordable Care Act. Medicare beneficiaries may also qualify for a slew of preventative health services to help manage or even prevent chronic diseases. Such services include tobacco use cessation counseling, annual physicals and free screenings for various diseases including cancer and diabetes.

We never can predict the future, so perhaps the greatest thing to come from the Medicare prescription drug program is this: Approximately 94 percent of seniors feel "peace of mind" because of the coverage they receive through Part D, according to Medicare Today, and such peace truly is invaluable.

Larry Lucas is a retired vice president for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA).

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