MMA stymies seniors’ savvy

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

MENLO PARK, Calif. - Nearly three out of four seniors who are knowledgeable about the new Medicare prescription drug law (MMA) say they have an unfavorable impression of the new act, according to a survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation and released Feb. 26.

Seniors’ distaste for the new drug benefit runs counter to that of the AARP, which embraced the new legislation last fall and hailed its passage last December.

The Kaiser survey polled more than 1,000 adults nationwide, including 237 adults aged 65 or older.

Despite the welling disgruntlement over legislation that the Bush Administration planned to laud in the presidential election campaign, few observers expect the general discontent to result in legislation that would render the MMA more palatable.

At the AAHomecare Leadership Conference in San Diego in late February, former CMS Administrator Tom Scully made no bones about his belief that no Medicare or Medicaid bill would come to life in Congress this year.

Although Senators Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., introduced a Medicare fix bill called the MEND Act, which would provide financial incentive for participating Medicare plans to negotiate the best possible drug prices, the bill has received little attention.

Snowe and Wyden are currently seeking additional support for the bill, which has been referred to the Senate Finance Committee.

In the meantime, seniors are still piecing together the ins and outs of the MMA. About two-thirds of all seniors followed the story closely, but just 39% of all seniors believed they understood the law well.

One of the poll’s more remarkable findings: 68% of seniors didn’t know the bill was signed into law; 27% of those seniors polled believed the bill had not been passed by Congress and 41% simply didn’t know.

“The lack of understanding of the prescription drug law makes it ripe for political demagoguery on both sides as we enter the election season,” Drew E. Altman, Kaiser’s president and CEO, said in a press release. “The president will say he delivered a good prescription drug law and the Democratic candidate will say it’s a bad law. How are seniors to judge?”