Most U.S. elderly now have drug coverage: study

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By Megan Rauscher
Thu Aug 23, 5:29 PM ET

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Despite early criticisms, the Medicare Part D prescription drug plan has succeeded in boosting drug coverage among older Americans, especially for those who need it most, according to a University of Michigan analysis.


More than 90 percent of Americans aged 65 and older now have prescription drug coverage, compared to more than 75 percent who had drug coverage in 2004, U-M economists David Weir and Helen Levy report.

“Fewer than 10 percent of seniors lack drug coverage now,” Weir told Reuters Health.

The findings are based on interviews conducted with a nationally representative sample of 10,175 seniors. The seniors were asked about drug coverage in 2004 before Medicare Part D started and again in 2006, after the prescription drug program took effect.

“The unique aspect of this study is that Part D participation can be looked at in context of income, health, Rx use, prior Rx coverage, and other factors,” Weir noted. “The key findings are that Part D participation is widespread and this helped to ‘level the playing field’ in the sense that low income seniors are now just as likely to have prescription drug coverage as high-income seniors.”

The most surprising result, according to Weir, is the change in confidence with the program. “In late 2005, people expressed a lot of confusion and worry about making bad decisions. In 2006, people mostly said the decision was not very difficult and they had confidence they had made a good choice,” Weir told Reuters Health.

Eighty-six percent of those interviewed in 2006 said they planned to sign up for the program again the following year.

The most important factor for people who chose not to sign up with Medicare Part D was that they did not use enough prescription drugs to make up for the premiums and deductibles. Seniors with worse self-reported health and higher use of prescription drugs in 2004 were more likely than others to sign up.

Weir, who heads the U-M Institute for Social Research and the ongoing Health and Retirement Study, which is funded by the National Institute on Aging, believes that the Medicare Part D drug plan is “a valuable benefit for seniors who do not have other coverage for their prescription drugs.”

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