Elderly Americans confused by new Medicare drug benefits

Though US President Bush hails the new Medicare drug benefits, which will soon be offered through Medicare, large numbers of elderly Americans appear to be confused by the choices they will have to make. Bush said last Saturday the new Medicare prescription drug benefit was "the greatest advance" in health care for the elderly, and urged seniors to learn more about it.

Most of the 43 million elderly people and those with disabilities who qualify must select from about 40 plans, making sense of an array of premiums, formularies, co-payments, coverage gaps, deductibles and pharmacy networks, China View reports.

Enrollment begins Tuesday and continues until May 15, 2006. The program itself begins Jan. 1.

Instead of a single, nationwide program along the lines of Medicare, the prescription drug benefit is market-oriented program. While heavily subsidized by the federal government, the plans are designed, offered and administered by private insurance companies, which are spending tens of millions of dollars to market them.In the most massive change to Medicare since its inception 40 years ago, the federal government will spend an estimated $720 billion over the next 10 years to subsidize prescription-drug coverage through private insurance companies, according to ABC News.

However, critics have described the program as much too complex, and recent surveys found potential beneficiaries wary.

Polls show that in many cases, the very people who are supposed to benefit from the program don't believe the benefit will help them. A survey released last week by the Kaiser Family Foundation in Washington, D.C., found that only 20 percent of seniors say they will enroll in a plan and 37 percent say they won't.

Another 43 percent haven't decided.

Of those opting against it or sitting on the fence, 60 percent say they already have some kind of drug coverage. But among the rest, confusion reigns. A.M.

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