Opinion: Time to stand up and defend Medicare Part D

By Eileen Doherty

Despite some heated political rhetoric from around the country, Colorado seniors know that the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit is affordable and is working – even for older men and women in the lowest income bracket. At the Colorado Gerontological Society, we see firsthand how seniors struggle every day to make ends meet on a fixed income, and how Medicare Part D has provided a life line that seniors’ health literally depends on. We are calling on Coloradans to stand up for this vital program that has achieved so much for our older citizens.

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The record of success that we have seen with Medicare Part D is frankly rare for a government program, and something that we all should be proud of. Part D repeatedly comes in under budget. For three years in a row, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has reduced its 10-year budget forecast for Part D. Total Part D costs are 45 percent less than the initial CBO 10 year projections. This program is saving seniors money and saving our government money.

Today, over 450,000 Colorado seniors are enrolled in the program which allows them to choose from 34 different private plans, some of which cost as little as $12.60 a month and have no annual deductibles.

That is a recipe not only for success, but for high levels of satisfaction. According to the 2013 Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, 94 percent of seniors who use Medicare Part D are happy with their plan. Part D has surpassed expectations in both improving seniors’ access to affordable medicines and containing healthcare costs for all taxpayers. Part of this is due to its competitive structure.

That’s good news because Colorado has one of the fastest aging populations in the country. Like millennials, baby boomers are flocking to Colorado. According to the Colorado Commission on Aging, between 2011 and 2021, Colorado will experience a 54 percent increase in residents over the age of 60. Colorado’s Medicare spending is already growing at an annual rate of nearly 9 percent. This trend is certain to accelerate as our population grows and ages.

The good news is that Part D is part of the solution.

Affordable drug coverage and proper medication adherence improves health and helps slow Medicare’s overall spending growth. Costly procedures and hospital visits are less common when patients take their medications as prescribed by their physician. Part D has helped save Medicare about $1,200 a year per patient in medical spending unrelated to prescription drugs.

In the past decade, we’ve seen exciting new treatments for cancer, diabetes, Crohn’s disease, Fibromyalgia, Cystic Fibrosis, Lupus, Hepatitis C and many other devastating diseases. These breakthroughs promise to dramatically improve the health of seniors while reducing the economic costs of many debilitating conditions. Many new medicines are being researched and developed right here in Colorado.

Despite Part D’s undeniable popularity and success, some in Congress are looking to change the program in their push to cut the budget. Over the past several years, some lawmakers have proposed changes to Part D that would save little money, while destroying a market-based structure that has kept the program’s costs repeatedly under budget. Of particular concern is a proposal to weaken the Medicare Part D Low Income Subsidy (LIS) program, also known as “Extra Help”. This proposal would require seniors, many below the poverty level, to pay more for brand name medicines. Losing Extra Help would be burdensome for low-income seniors and increase out-of-pocket costs for many people.

Simply put, Medicare Part D is one government program that is popular and saves money. Let’s protect what works. Our leaders in Washington shouldn’t let today’s political battles get in the way of something that benefits the health of Colorado’s seniors today and for decades to come.

Eileen Doherty is the Executive Director of the Colorado Gerontological Society (www.senioranswers.org), which is a statewide not-for- profit organization dedicated to the support, guidance, education and dissemination of information to seniors, their families, and elder care practitioners.

Opinions expressed in Health News Colorado represent the views of the individual authors.

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