Study builds case for Medicare drug benefit

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Saturday, August 31, 2002

BOSTON — About 22% of seniors said that they skipped doses of prescription drugs or did not buy the medications they needed in 2001 because the cost was too high, according to an eight-state survey conducted by researchers at Boston-based Tufts-New England Medical Center, the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Commonwealth Fund.

For seniors without prescription drug coverage, the percentage who skipped doses or did not purchase needed drugs was higher, about 35%. Many seniors with severe and chronic conditions, such as heart disease or diabetes, also skipped medications or did not fill prescriptions because of cost, the survey indicates. Results from the survey were published recently in the online version of the journal Health Affairs and in a companion report called "Seniors and Prescription Drugs: Findings from a 2001 Survey of Seniors in Eight States."

Researchers surveyed 10,927 Medicare beneficiaries living in California, Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas in 2001. About 42% of American seniors and 41% of low-income seniors — those with incomes below 200% of the poverty level, or $17,720 for an individual — live in the surveyed states.

Among states in the survey, Illinois, Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania have implemented prescription drug programs for seniors.

The study surmises that even in states that make efforts to cover seniors' drug costs through Medicaid or other assistance programs, a "substantial percentage" of low-income seniors still lacked coverage in 2001. The report concludes that the "need for a national policy solution [on prescription drug coverage] is clear,"

Dana Gelb Safran, the study's lead author, said that amendments defeated over the last two weeks in the Senate that would have given low-income seniors prescription drug benefits through Medicare would have been an "excellent start" to improving coverage. HME

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