June 01,2004

Grassley Announces Hearing on Medicare Drug Discount Cards

WASHINGTON – On the first effective day of Medicare’s drug discount cards, Sen. ChuckGrassley, chairman of the Committee on Finance, announced a hearing to make sure the cardprogram is running smoothly and delivering discounts as Congress intended. Grassley’s committeehearing, “Medicare Drug Card: Delivering Savings for Participating Beneficiaries,” will be onTuesday, June 8, at 10 a.m. in 215 Dirksen Senate Office Building. A witness list will be availablelater.

“Congress created this voluntary drug discount card program to give older Americans immediate help with the cost of their prescription medications,” Grassley said. “This program willhelp millions of people benefit from lower prescription drug costs now. Medicare beneficiaries don’thave to wait any longer to lower their prescription drug costs. The discounts and targeted assistancefor lower income beneficiaries will make life-saving medicines more affordable.“It’s important for the Senate committee of jurisdiction to make sure the program is workingin practice as everybody envisioned it in theory. We did our best to anticipate Medicarebeneficiaries’ needs, like having good phone access to trained benefits counselors, but there can beunforseen needs. This hearing will give us a progress report from all perspectives. Then we can workto fix any shortcomings.”

Grassley, the lead Senate author of the new Medicare Modernization Act, which offers avoluntary prescription drug benefit for the first time, said the discount card’s benefits kick in todayfor those who have signed up so far. The card is available for an annual fee of $30 or less to allMedicare beneficiaries who don’t have outpatient drug coverage through Medicaid. Beneficiariescan sign up at any point this year, and those who enroll early will get the full benefit of the discountsand assistance that is available.

Beneficiaries using the Medicare-approved drug discount cards will save between 16 percentto 30 percent off usual retail prices for brand name drugs, and up to 60 percent or more on genericprescription drugs, Grassley said. Medicare beneficiaries can access the discounts through their localpharmacies and mail-order drug companies. Using Medicare’s Web site or a Medicare telephonerepresentative, they are able to compare prices offered by sponsors on specific drugs and enroll inthe program that best suits their needs.

Grassley and his fellow lawmakers targeted the greatest assistance to those with the greatestneed. Low-income beneficiaries qualify for a $600 annual credit on the card for 2004 and 2005, payno enrollment fee and have access to even greater discounts offered by certain manufacturers. Asingle person whose income is no more than about $12,600, and a married couple whose income isno more than about $16,900, qualify for the credit. For these low-income beneficiaries, the card isjust like a debit card. When the card is presented at a pharmacy, the beneficiary is able to “drawdown” from the $600 to purchase his or her prescriptions. Combined with the additionalmanufacturer discounts, the cards can save low-income beneficiaries as much as 75 percent to 90percent on their drug costs.

For example, take a hypothetical beneficiary, Helen, who lives in Waterloo, Iowa. Helentakes three prescription medications, Celebrex twice daily, Norvasc once daily, and Zocor once daily.Helen finds that the card that offers the best value will save her $73 a month, accounting for 20percent off her prescription drug bill. Because Helen lives on a fixed income of $1,000 per month,she also qualifies for $600 of transitional assistance this year and next, which she can use to purchaseher drugs. Combining the $600 credit with additional manufacturer discounts that kick-in when sheexhausts the $600, Helen can save more than $330 a month, or 90 percent off her current prescriptiondrug bill. Over the 19-month program, savings amount to an astonishing $6,300, Grassley said.

“The drug discount card is a very good deal for beneficiaries who are struggling with highdrug costs, especially those with lower incomes,” Grassley said. “The cards are available to allMedicare beneficiaries regardless of where they live, and the program is completely voluntary.”During the first four months of the year, Grassley conducted 39 meetings throughout Iowato help educate beneficiaries about the Medicare-approved drug discount card and new Medicaredrug benefit. He also held two enrollment events.

“Last year Congress approved the biggest improvement to Medicare in history,” Grassleysaid. “But it won’t do Medicare beneficiaries one bit of good if they aren’t aware of the new benefits.Through my town meetings, I’ve worked hard to spread the word and gather feedback from Iowans.At my meetings I also informed Iowans that they could go to three places to get more informationabout how the new benefit will benefit them.”

The three places to learn more about the new drug discount card program are:• The federal agency that runs Medicare has upgraded its Web site to allow visitors tocompare drug prices and search for a local pharmacy that accepts the Medicare-approved discountcards. Medicare beneficiaries and their family members can go to www.medicare.gov to learn more.In addition, they may access one-on-one assistance by calling toll-free 1/800-MEDICARE to speakdirectly with a trained benefits counselor for personalized help.

• In January, Grassley urged the secretary of Health and Human Services to direct resourcesto local State Health Insurance Information Assistance Programs (SHIIP). This network of staff andtrained volunteers provides free expert advice and confidential counseling to folks who need helpfiguring out their health insurance coverage. HHS boosted funding for these local outreach programsby 69 percent to get help where help is needed most in the communities where Medicarebeneficiaries live. These dedicated representatives know the Medicare program inside and out. Theyoffer unbiased information to help older folks choose the right benefit option for them. Iowa hasrepresentatives in 75 counties. To find a trained volunteer in their area, Medicare beneficiaries andtheir family members should call 1/800-351-4664 or send an e-mail to shiip@comm6.state.ia.us.

Also they can check its Web site at www.shiip.state.ia.us.

• Grassley said Iowans can also always contact any of his state offices for more information.

Cedar Rapids
206 Federal Building
101 1st Street, S.E.
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
(319) 363-6832

Council Bluffs
307 Federal Building
8 South 6th Street
Council Bluffs, Iowa 51501
(712) 322-7103

131 West 3rd Street
Suite 180
Davenport, Iowa 52801
(563) 322-4331

*Temporary address while the Federal Building is under renovation

Des Moines
721 Federal Building
210 Walnut Street
Des Moines, Iowa 50309
(515) 284-4890

Sioux City
103 Federal Building
320 6th Street
Sioux City, Iowa 51101
(712 )233-1860

210 Waterloo Building
531 Commercial Street
Waterloo, Iowa 50701
(319) 232-6657