Americans Want Medicare Drug Benefit Although Many Seniors Are Satisfied With Status Quo

July 1, 2003
Jim Jaffe
(202) 775-6353
jaffe@ebri.org, EBRI

WASHINGTON, DC—A new poll suggests that Congressional efforts to provide a drug benefit to Medicare beneficiaries accurately reflect an American health priority. Half of those polled fear they'll be unable to afford drugs as a Medicare beneficiary and nearly a quarter of today's senior beneficiaries (23 percent) say drug costs were the biggest challenge facing America's healthcare system.

But a larger group thinks that extending insurance to those without it is a more important goal.

Legislators may be challenged to come up with a plan that today's seniors with drug coverage find more attractive than what's now available. The 58 percent of those over 65 with such coverage are generally happy with it. A total of 53 percent are extremely or very satisfied and an added 28 percent are somewhat satisfied. Only 15 percent are dissatisfied with current coverage.

These results were part of the 2003 Health Confidence Survey issued today by Employee Benefit Research Institute and Mathew Greenwald & Associates, Inc. It also found that respondents will accept some restrictions on drug choices in return for help in paying for prescriptions. Acceptance of such restrictions drops as age rises, hitting a low of 53 percent for those already 65. The pending legislation would probably include a formulary designed to encourage beneficiaries to use drugs deemed most cost-effective.

Americans over 65 are more likely to be spending more than $100 monthly on drugs (beyond insurance coverage, if any) and are less likely than others in the population to have no drug expense. Among seniors, 28 percent report spending more than $100 monthly and nine percent spend nothing. Among those 21-45 by contrast, 14 percent spend nothing and another 78 percent spend less than $100 monthly.

The proposed Medicare drug benefit generally would not reimburse expenses until a beneficiary had spent nearly $300 annually on drugs.

The poll, which was taken prior to the enactment of this year's tax cuts, found that the idea of a Medicare drug benefit was roughly as popular as a broad tax cut, but that both options were eclipsed by the popularity of a new government initiative to provide health insurance to those now uninsured.

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EBRI is a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan public policy research organization based in Washington, DC (www.ebri.org). Founded in 1978, its mission is to contribute to, to encourage, and to enhance the development of sound employee benefit programs and sound public policy through objective research and education. EBRI does not lobby and does not take positions on legislative proposals. EBRI receives funding from individuals, employers of all types, unions, foundations, and government.

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