August 25, 2005

US retirees still wary of Medicare drug plan -study

By Susan Heavey

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Most older Americans say they still
do not understand how Medicare's new prescription drug coverage
will work and they are split over whether it will be
worthwhile, a study released on Thursday found.

In a Kaiser Family Foundation survey of people aged 65 and
up, 60 percent said they did not understand the new benefit,
which opens for enrollment in November and is scheduled to
start in January.

Nearly one-third said they did not know or could not answer
whether they had to sign up for drug coverage or would be
automatically enrolled. Forty-four percent said they had not
received any information about the benefit, according to the
telephone survey.

The poll also found about 32 percent of old Americans had a
"favorable" opinion about the benefit, up from 17 percent six
months ago. Another 32 percent said their view was
"unfavorable," down from 55 percent in February. The rest
either were neutral or unsure.

Officials for the nation's insurance program for the
elderly and disabled plan to announce in September which
insurance companies, retailers and other health-related firms
will offer plans. Companies can start marketing them in
October, and beneficiaries can sign up starting November 15.

Most patients will have to enroll for the voluntary
coverage. Those who also qualify for Medicaid, the government's
insurance program for the poor, are supposed to be
automatically signed up.

Medicare officials and members of Congress have spent the
summer touring the country to promote the coverage.

Slightly more of those polled said they now understood the
benefit. Twenty-four percent told researchers in early August
they understood it "somewhat well" and 13 percent "very well,"
up from 18 percent and 11 percent, respectively, in April.

More also said they would enroll -- 22 percent in August
compared with 9 percent in April. Forty percent said they still
were not sure.

Kaiser Family Foundation President and CEO Drew Altman
said, "It will take several years before we see how well
beneficiaries navigate the new system and how satisfied they
are with it."

Medicare officials, acknowledging the elderly may have
trouble navigating how the plan works, have tried reaching out
to family members and others to learn about the coverage.

Of 905 adults aged 18 to 64 whom Kaiser surveyed, 68
percent said they did not understand the plan, compared with 29
percent who did. Nearly all of the elderly surveyed said they
were unaware of friends or relatives seeking information on
their behalf.

The survey, part of a Kaiser series, was conducted August 4
to 8. It had a margin of error of 6 percentage points among
seniors and 3 percentage points for all adults.