We will also seek opportunities to improve the Medicare Act. We anticipate that efforts will be made to correct technical errors and provide further clarification. We will be actively engaged in that process. For example, we have already identified three such issues that are important to our members:
- A provision that would have exempted retiree health plans from age discrimination laws, allowing them to reduce or eliminate benefits for retirees 65 and older was dropped from the final legislation, but the language was not changed in the conference report. Congress needs to correct the report language.
- The employer coverage provision, particularly as it relates to employee cost sharing, needs to be clarified.
- Plans should be required to disclose to all Medicare beneficiaries the drugs contained in any formulary or preferred drug plan before they enroll.
Over the longer term, and in accordance with issues we articulated last year, we will look to improve the benefit over time. We will work with Congress in a bipartisan fashion to narrow the funding gap created by the "doughnut hole" and try to eliminate the asset test, which would improve the low-income benefit even more.
We also need to improve a state's ability to coordinate state pharmaceutical programs with the new benefit. We will also work to modify the indexing in the law from drug prices to the CPI-U, to better reflect people's ability to pay.
Our cost-containment strategy also includes plans to offer consumer information, education and services directly to our members. This is a key part of our ongoing mission of social responsibility. AARP has been providing pharmacy benefits to its members for 45 years, and five years ago we introduced our own discount card to help make drugs more affordable, especially for our low-income members.
As part of that ongoing commitment, we have begun working in coalition with several other organizations to ensure that all low-income Medicare beneficiaries know about—and can make optimal use of—all available resources for saving money on prescription drugs. Some of these organizations include:
- National Council on Aging
- American Association of Peoples with Disabilities
- National Alliance for Hispanic Health
- Center for Medicare Advocacy
- Alzheimer's Association
- Catholic Health Association of the US
- National Association of Area Agencies on Aging, and
- National Association of State Units on Aging
We also hope to be able to make available a Medicare card along with our existing pharmacy card, especially as a service to our low-income members, to help them gain access to the $600 benefit. When the regulations come out, we will study them and make a final decision.
These are immediate steps we can take, to help those with low incomes who need help the most, to make their prescription drugs more affordable.
One last element of our cost-containment strategy that I would like to mention involves consumer education. In April 2002, we conducted research that told us that even though people 45+ take lots of prescription drugs—especially those 65 and older—they often don't realize the full benefits of these drugs because they're not taking them as directed. Moreover, many don't use generics despite their comparable efficacy and lower cost. So, we initiated a campaign to educate consumers about how to purchase medications more cost efficiently, and how to use medications wisely.