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Commentary

High on the drug benefit
Grace-Marie Turner, Galen Institute, 1-6-06

Turner points out that all of the media attention to the setbacks of the new Medicare drug benefit ignores the lessons of history. When Medicare debuted in 1965, there were similar complaints and confusion.

The news has been filled with early reports that seniors, pharmacists, and physicians are confused and face glitches in checking drug plan eligibility since the January 1 launch of the program. Trying to enroll millions of people in a new program in a short time necessarily causes disruption, and this harkens back to when Medicare was first created in 1965.

The New York Times reported that Social Security offices were swamped with questions. Patients and doctors didn't understand the new program, and seniors were complaining that they hadn't received their new Medicare cards, just like today. But the system will work things out (especially for those seniors who signed up in late December and wondered why they didn't have their cards by January 1).

Medicare administrator Mark McClellan reported last month that so far, 21 million seniors are enrolled in the drug program, with one million signing up for stand-alone drug plans in the first 28 days.

The confusion, as Turner points out, is likely caused by an influx of seniors who joined the program at the last minute. We shouldn't judge the program based on these initial stumbles, but on whether it achieves its long-term goals.



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