Conversations on Medicare Part D

Conversations Wrap Up: Medicare Part D 10 Years Later

09.30.13 | By John Castellani

In 2003, through the Medicare Modernization Act, Congress established the Medicare prescription drug benefit - better known as Part D. Ten years later, at a cost significantly below initial estimates, the program is successfully providing affordable access to prescription drugs for more than 30 million seniors and people with disabilities.

The program has been an overwhelming success by just about every metric, and this was further reinforced by the recent release of a satisfaction survey conducted by the Health Leadership Council.

For “Conversations” this week, we posed the following question:

As we come upon the 10th anniversary of the Medicare Part D program, is it still living up to its promise? What can be done to improve it?

Three panelists responded to our question: Mary Grealy, President of the Health Leadership Council; Tommy Thompson, the former Secretary of Health and Human Services, and Bobbie Ann Brinegar, Executive Director of the Older Women’s League.

According to Mary, Part D’s high satisfaction rate, while unusual for any government program, is not all that surprising. Competition between multiple plans has led to better price and quality than most anticipated and next year will mark the fourth consecutive year of no significant increases in monthly premiums for beneficiaries. Mary also makes the point that even though the program is successful, there are improvements that can be made to Part D, particularly around beneficiary access to information about different plan offerings.

As the Cabinet Secretary responsible for developing the framework for Part D, Governor Thompson brings a first-hand perspective of the program. As he explains, at the time of its inception, no one had ever tried to make such a drastic change to Medicare before, and while just about everyone likes Part D now, that was not always the case. He mentions the many critics and doubters the program originally had, including among some of the members of Congress who voted to pass the bill. Ten years later, he credits the competitive market-based structure of the program for much of its success.

Bobbie comments that Part D was a long-overdue reform to the nation’s health care delivery system, as well as a big step toward ensuring all Americans have access to health coverage. In addition highlights that closing the so-called “donut hole” and continuing to expand access to prescription drugs in the future will help realize Part D’s full potential.

As we’ve noted throughout Catalyst, the Medicare Part D program is a critically important component to providing adequate healthcare coverage to our Nation’s seniors and those with disabilities. Once again, I want to thank Mary, Governor Thompson and Bobbi are participating in this week’s Conversations question, and I encourage everyone to join in by providing your own opinions in the comments section.

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