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Prescription Drugs and Medicare Reform

Medicare improvements should take into account the surge in beneficiaries that will begin in 2011 when the first baby boomers become eligible for benefits. They should include greater coverage of prevention and detection benefits so that illnesses can be detected earlier and managed better, improving the delivery of care to chronically ill beneficiaries and the greater use of drug therapies that are replacing more expensive hospital stays for many people.

We must find a pragmatic, bipartisan, workable solution to this problem. Until we do, no one will be able to feel secure from the rising costs of drugs. The payoff-in increased independence, quality of life and financial savings-is huge.

Well-thought-out, and well-funded, policies can be transformational in our society. But public policy alone has limits. We must also address individual behaviors and personal responsibility for our own health.

So it is important for people to understand and use medications wisely. Our research shows that, even though people 45 and older are taking lots of prescription drugs-especially those 65 and older-they are not realizing the full benefits of these drugs because they're often not taking them as directed. And many are not using generics despite their comparable efficacy and lower cost. They don't fully understand what generics are.

On the basis of this research, here is our basic message that we tell our members and the public:

  • If generics are available, then take them, as long as your physician agrees.
  • If a drug is not necessary, there is no reason to take it. Over-utilization can be physically harmful; can compromise the effectiveness of other drugs, and wastes money. And don ' t go in for overkill. For example: take Tums or Maalox for heart-burn, and save the expensive Prilosec for reflux disease.
  • Under-utilization is just as bad. Take the medication your doctor prescribes. For example, some higher cost drugs such as statins, for high cholesterol and anti-hypertensive medications have been shown to be under-utilized.

We reach a lot of people, and we are going to continue to educate our members and others to use prescription-drugs wisely. Information and education are critical in bringing down drug costs. When people can take better care of themselves they may rely less on medical interventions to lead healthy lives. We have reached a new era in this country. People turning 50 today have half of their adult lives ahead of them. They are using that milestone to question what they want to do with the rest of their lives, instead of viewing it as a time of decline. For many it is a time to enjoy new-found freedoms, make new choices, and dream new dreams.

There is a lot to feel good about because we know more and more about aging, and aging itself is getting better for us all. Increased and improved longevity is one of our greatest success stories, and today we have the knowledge, innovation and technology to make it even better. The question is: do we have the will? I believe the answer is yes. But, it will take all of us working together to face the new challenges our progress has brought us. Tomorrow, I will be standing with your AMA president, Dr. Yank Coble, and the leaders of other national organizations to kick off the Cover the Uninsured Week campaign to bring greater awareness to the problem of the more than 40 million uninsured people in this country.

Recently, AARP joined with you to advocate for fixing the physician payment formula, because it was an obvious error that needed to be corrected. We told the Congress that, "Our members want physicians who treat Medicare patients to be paid fairly," and that "errors or miscalculations in Medicare payment formulas should be corrected."

And now, we need to join together in the Medicare debate. Our members are your patients. And, lack of a meaningful prescription-drug benefit in Medicare is harming them. It undermines the treatment you provide. It must be very difficult for you to know that you are prescribing important drugs that many patients will not be able to afford. That's sad. Together, we can put a stop to much of it with a meaningful prescription-drug benefit in Medicare. Let's work together on this..

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