"After a rocky start, Medicare's drug benefit appears to be delivering a lower prescription tab for seniors, along with a whopping bill for the federal government, new research shows.
The Medicare drug benefit led to a 17 percent decrease in out-of-pocket expenses, or $9 a month, for seniors who enrolled in the new Medicare Part D benefit in 2006, the first full year prescription coverage became available in the federal health insurance program for the elderly and disabled.
The savings amounted to an extra 14 days of medicine for those who signed up, or a 19 percent increase in prescription usage, according to a study released Tuesday on the Web site of the Annals of Internal Medicine ( http://www.annals.org ). A print edition will be published Feb. 5.
The study, considered by its authors to be the first in-depth examination of the impact of Part D, does not reveal shocking surprises in usage, considering the desire of seniors to have drug coverage. But its authors said the program was clearly working, reflecting the experiences of millions of Americans.
"We found that it had a modest but significant effect on both savings and drug use," said Dr. G. Caleb Alexander, assistant professor of medicine at University of Chicago Medical Center and one of the study's authors. "Despite extensive debate, it was not clear to what extent Part D would save people money or allow them to obtain drugs they might not otherwise be able to afford."
That debate is over. Now the question is, to what extent will we use incentives and new technology to match people to the right drug to promote the best outcome and quality of life. Or will we use one size fits all studies to drive people to the cheapest drug? Cost containment is just another word for profiteering if it doesn't add value to people's lives.