Medicare Drug Law in Disfavor Among Recipients

New survey says they see glass more empty than full

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HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Aug. 11, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- The new Medicare drug law is already off to a bumpy start, and if current opinions of those it affects the most are any indication, more trouble lies ahead.

A new survey has found that almost half (47 percent) of those on Medicare had an unfavorable impression of the new drug law, while the rest of the respondents were almost equally divided among those who professed a favorable impression and those who had no opinion.

"There seems to be little doubt that, at least at this still-early stage, they view the glass as more empty than full," Drew Altman, president and CEO of the Kaiser Family Foundation, said at a news conference Tuesday.

At the same time, two-thirds of those surveyed said they'd rather see Congress make improvements than have the whole thing repealed.

The survey, Views of the New Medicare Drug Law: A Survey of People on Medicare, was conducted by Kaiser and the Harvard School of Public Health.

There are currently 41 million Americans on Medicare, about 85 percent of whom are seniors. To get a sense of their perspective on the issue, researchers recently solicited the opinions of 1,223 seniors and people with disabilities who receive Medicare.

From their answers, it is apparent that the drug law is still confusing and angering many Medicare beneficiaries.

"Based on levels of understanding that we see at this stage, it looks to us that there will be a very rocky road ahead -- at least at the beginning -- unless there is a dramatically larger effort mounted to educate beneficiaries about this law and to provide customized assistance to people on Medicare on a one-on-one basis," Altman said. "The discount drug card was a walk in the park compared to implementation of the drug benefit."

The majority (62 percent) of respondents said they had not yet received enough information to decide whether they would enroll in a Medicare drug plan when such plans become available in 2006.

Opinions on the Medicare drug discount cards are equally as negative. More than half (53 percent) of those surveyed said the cards "aren't worth the trouble because they don't do enough to help people with their drug costs, and they are too confusing to use," while 34 percent consider them "worthwhile."

Only 10 percent of all people surveyed had heard of or called the 800 number for Medicare, while even fewer (4 percent) had gone online or heard of the program's Web site.

The vast majority (79 percent) of respondents were in favor of changing the law to allow Americans to buy prescription drugs from Canada to take advantage of lower prices. Most respondents did not feel that this would lead U.S. companies to do less research and development, or that it would expose Americans to unsafe medications.

And 28 percent of the respondents said the passage of the new law would affect their presidential vote in November, with more than twice as many saying it would make them more likely to vote for the Democratic nominee, Sen. John Kerry.

Of the Republican respondents, 38 percent viewed the law favorably and 36 percent viewed it unfavorably. Among Democrats, 21 percent viewed it favorably and 52 percent viewed it unfavorably.

The chance that this issue will have an actual impact on the election will depend on how close the race is, experts said.

"If by Labor Day, the candidates are tied on the three top issues [the economy, Iraq/Afghanistan and terrorism], the campaign completely changes for both parties," said Robert J. Blendon, a professor of health policy and political analysis at the Harvard School of Public Health. "The second-level issues become decisive."

More information

View the full report at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

SOURCES: Aug. 10, 2004, press conference with Drew Altman, Ph.D., president and CEO, Kaiser Family Foundation; Robert J. Blendon, Sc.D., professor of health policy and political analysis, Harvard School of Public Health; Kaiser Family Foundation report, Views of the New Medicare Drug Law: A Survey of People on Medicare

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