June 08,2004

Grassley Encourages Critics to Set Politics Aside, Let Medicare Drug Discount Cards Work

WASHINGTON – Sen. Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Committee on Finance, today encouraged older Americans to keep an open mind on Medicare’s drug discount cards, a brand-newprogram that offers immediate, significant relief for millions of Medicare beneficiaries sufferingunder high prescription drug costs.

“The drug card is an important first step in filling a void for many of our nation’s seniors and disabled,” Grassley said. “That void has prevented them from getting life-saving and life-improving prescription drugs. While the program’s creation was a bipartisan effort, over the past few months, we’ve heard an awful lot of criticism about the program even though it started just a week ago.

“The drug discount card program has been the target of a deliberate campaign to discreditit and confuse seniors about how it works. This effort is driven and coordinated by those whoopposed the Medicare Modernization Act not because of policy, but because of politics. This kindof politically-motivated subterfuge disappoints me. It’s a disservice to the millions of older Americans and people with disabilities who can benefit from a Medicare-approved drug discountcard.”

Grassley convened a Finance Committee hearing to help committee members and the publicget objective information about the program and to conduct oversight over the federal government’simplementation of it. Witnesses included Kris Gross, director of the Iowa State Health InsuranceInformation Program, a primary resource for Medicare beneficiaries, and Dr. Mark McClellan, newadministrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the federal agency implementingthe drug card program.

Grassley said others share his view that some Democrats are trying to discredit the drug cardprogram to score political points. “Just last week, the Centrist Policy Network wrote, ‘Democratsare the opposition party in Congress, and they’re supposed to raise questions. But discouragingseniors from enrolling in the Medicare drug discounts cards is too much. The average Martian wouldbe justifiably perplexed about why the Democratic leadership wants to repeal a program that doesno one harm, might actually help quite a few people, and offers a significant benefit to low-incomeseniors.’ ”

Grassley said some original opponents and supporters of the drug card program are joiningtogether to help older Americans get needed assistance. He cited the Access to Benefits Coalition,which he said is made up of organizations – such as the AARP, the Alzheimer’s Association, theNational Consumers League, Easter Seals, and the National Alliance for Caregiving (seehttp://www.accesstobenefits.org/ for more) – that have put politics aside to make sure thatbeneficiaries, particularly those with low incomes, get the assistance they deserve.

“Many of these organizations didn’t support the passage of the original bill, but they’veagreed to put that aside, move on, and now help seniors obtain these benefits,” Grassley said. “Icommend these organizations for stepping forward to work together to help beneficiaries learn aboutthe lower prices they can get through a discount card.”

Grassley said a hypothetical beneficiary living in Waterloo, Iowa, with an income of $12,000a year who takes Celebrex, Norvasc, and Zocor would pay around $7,000 at her local pharmacy fromnow until the end of 2005 without a drug discount card. The beneficiary gets her prescriptions filledat the local pharmacy because she knows and trusts the pharmacist. Like many, she does not wantto order drugs through the mail.

She could save more than $1,300 – 20 percent – off her three medications by using aMedicare discount card. The $1,300 by itself is a pretty big savings. But she qualifies for a $600credit this year and next year (called transitional assistance) so she won’t pay an enrollment fee ifthere is one. In addition, she will receive additional assistance from drug manufacturers when shesigns up for a drug card. Beneficiaries who qualify for transitional assistance can automatically getthese additional manufacturers’ discounts upon enrollment in a card.

“The Medicare drug card has dramatically simplified these benefits by making all of themavailable through one card,” Grassley said. “I hope card sponsors will work with as many drugmanufacturers as possible so that low-income beneficiaries can access all of these discounts.”So, when the hypothetical beneficiary combines the $1,200 in transitional assistance with the$5,100 in additional manufacturers’ assistance offered through her card, she will save $6,300.

“That’s a 90 percent savings for her. Ninety percent savings. To me that’s real savings,”Grassley said. “And to those who say this discount card program provides no real benefits, my onlyconclusion is that they’re the ones who are confused. I’ll be the first to say that some issues havesurfaced that need to be worked out, but that’s not unusual with a new program. Medicare itselfexperienced some start-up issues. So did the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. Only982,000 recipients – fewer than 20 percent of the enrollment goal of 5 million set by the Clintonadministration – enrolled in S-CHIP during its first year.

“In the first five weeks that beneficiaries have been able to enroll in the Medicare-approveddiscount drug card, the federal government succeeded in enrolling nearly 40 percent of its goal of7.4 million. That’s a great start after just five weeks. I think we’d all agree that it was a good thingwe didn’t give up on Medicare or S-CHIP in their early stages. I hope everyone will put politicsaside and give the drug card program a chance to work. Medicare beneficiaries deserve that.”

The following information is from Medicare’s Web site.

Facts You Need to Know About Medicare-Approved Drug Discount Cards

More discount cards are offering you competitive prices for your prescription drugs.

Savings on brand-name drugs range from 16 to over 30 percent off usual retail prices and 11½ to 17percent off the average retail prices (including the retail discounts that many people with drugcoverage receive), with significantly larger discounts available on mail-order drugs. Savings forgeneric drugs are even larger, ranging between 30 to 60 percent or more.

If you are enrolled in Medicare you are eligible to enroll in a Medicare-approved drug discount card,unless you receive outpatient prescription drugs through Medicaid. If you are getting real help withyour drug costs from other sources -- like retiree insurance, Medigap coverage, or health planbenefits — you don't need to do anything. If you are struggling with high drug prices, it's worthfinding out more.

If you have a limited income and you do not have drug coverage, you can get even more help.

If your monthly income in 2004 is no more than $1,047 if you are single or no more than $1,404

If you are married, you might qualify for a $600 credit on the Medicare-approved drug discount card. You canalso get another $600 credit for 2005. In addition, you might qualify for additional, larger discounts from many drug manufacturers.

Signing up for a Medicare-approved drug discount card is voluntary. You can sign up any time this year and there's no deadline or late enrollment penalty. Enrollment started on May 3, 2004.

Sign upin May 2004 to get the benefits when the program begins in June 2004. If you have a limited income,you should look into the program now. Enrolling before June means that you can get the full benefitof the discounts and the financial assistance with drug costs.

Enrollment forms for the Medicare-approved drug discount cards are available on www.medicare.gov or by calling1-800-MEDICARE. We will mail you a Medicare-approved drugdiscount card enrollment form, if you request it. If you qualify, we will send you the enrollment form to apply for the $600 credit.

Card fees are low. The maximum card fee is $30 per year, but many cards have lower fees or no fee. After you choose a card, you can send your completed enrollment forms to the company offering theMedicare-approved drug discount card you want. You will usually get your drug discount card withinone week. You can start using your card on the first day of the next month. If you want to change toanother Medicare-approved drug discount card for 2005, you can make a different choice from mid-November until the end of December 2004.

3 Simple Steps to Get A Medicare-Approved Drug Discount Card

Different people have different drug needs and prefer to get their medicines in different ways. Tocompare cards and decide which Medicare-approved drug discount card is best for you, contactMedicare for help — either by calling 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227), visitingwww.medicare.gov or contacting your local State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP). If you visit www.medicare.gov, you can use our Price Compare tool to help choose your card or youcan download our Guide to Choosing a Medicare-Approved Drug Discount Card for more information.

You can always talk to a live person at 1-800-MEDICARE to get the facts you need. To better serveyou when you contact us, have the following information ready:

Your ZIP code,

Your medicines and doses (you can find this information on your pill bottles), and

Your total monthly income (if you are interested in the additional financial help available for peoplewith Medicare who have lower incomes).

To help narrow your discount card choices, you can also tell us your preferred pharmacy, whetheryou are interested in low-cost or no-cost cards, and the names of any specific cards you want moreinformation about.

If you call 1-800-MEDICARE, we will send you a personalized brochure that allows you to look atdiscount cards based on your drug needs and your preferences about how to get your medicines. Youcan use this personalized information to

Look at the prices being offered for all of your drugs,

Look at the annual enrollment fee charged by card sponsors that provide the best prices on yourdrugs, and

Look at the pharmacies that accept the discount card to make sure your preferred pharmacy isincluded.

We will also send you a simple enrollment form and tell you how to contact the card sponsorsdirectly for additional information or to enroll.

Requests for information about the Medicare-approved drug discount cards are at an all-time high.

We have increased the number of customer service representatives from 1,200 to 1,800 at the Medicare call centers to make sure we can respond to every one of your calls. We are taking other steps to help reduce your call time and to use our Medicare.gov web site more easily. The best times for you to call to get the shortest waiting time are after 6:00 p.m. EST and before 6:00 a.m. EST. The best days to call are Thursday, Friday and Sunday.