Enrollment in the new Medicare Part D drug benefit lags among some vulnerable groups, but Medicare has made major strides overall, with 24.7 million of the 35.8 million elderly Americans, or 69%, eligible for the benefit enrolled as of June, according to a study published online by Health Affairs. The study was based on a survey of about 1,600 seniors eligible for Part D and on CMS data. About 8.5 million seniors eligible for the benefit had other comparable prescription-drug coverage. Altogether, 90% of seniors had "creditable" drug coverage, defined as at least as good as the Part D standard plan. An estimated 2.7 million seniors did not have creditable coverage as of June, including 2 million taking at least one prescription drug. Enrollment also was low among healthy seniors not taking any prescriptions, according to the study, which was funded by the National Institute on Aging.
More than half of survey respondents said they had difficulty understanding how the program worked, and 90% worried that coverage for specific drugs could change. Almost 85% viewed the gap in coverage, known as the "donut hole," as a significant drawback. A bill introduced by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) would require Part D plans to offer uninterrupted coverage. There is no companion bill in the House. Read the study. -- by Jennifer Lubell