The Bush administration this week launched an $18 million campaign designed to promote the new Medicare prescription drug discount card program, the AP/Las Vegas Sun reports (Sherman, AP/Las Vegas Sun, 4/27). As part of the new Medicare law, the discount cards will be available beginning in May to all beneficiaries who do not have prescription drug coverage through Medicaid. CMS officials have said the cards could offer savings of about 10% to 25% on beneficiaries' prescription drug costs until the new prescription drug benefit takes effect in 2006. Companies offering the cards can charge an annual enrollment fee of up to $30 and likely will offer savings on at least one drug in each of 209 categories of medicines commonly used by Medicare beneficiaries. HHS in March approved 28 private companies to offer 49 different discount cards to Medicare beneficiaries. Beneficiaries with annual incomes less than $12,569 per year for individuals or $16,862 for couples will be eligible for a $600 annual subsidy for their prescription drug costs and will not have to pay enrollment fees (California Healthline, 4/14). One of the ads in the new campaign began airing this week, and another will air in May. The new ad campaign seeks to avoid the criticism that surrounded the administration's first promotional effort in February by focusing on explaining the drug discount cards and the $600 subsidy that will be available for low-income beneficiaries. Critics of the first campaign said the advertisements overstated the benefits of the new Medicare law. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) criticized the new television ads, saying, "You need a microscope to read the fine print that appears for a few seconds that reveals that you must pay an enrollment fee and that 'exclusions apply.' The major 'exclusion' could be the drug you need; the card may not offer any discount for many medications." The AP/Sun reports that the ad text posted on the Medicare Web site also leaves out language about exclusions, an omission that a Medicare official called a "clerical error" (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 4/27).
Wall Street Journal Examines Drug Card Program
The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday examined the drug card program and the difficulties facing seniors trying to choose a card amid the "expected marketing blitz" from the federal government and groups offering the cards. The Journal reports that some 80,000 drug industry representatives intend to visit doctors' offices to encourage them to inform their patients about the cards, and lawmakers are planning events to help beneficiaries sign up for the cards. In addition, beneficiaries can obtain help through the Medicare Web site, the 1-800-MEDICARE phone line and State Health Insurance Counseling and Assistance programs (Lueck, Wall Street Journal, 4/28).