Nearly nine in ten Medicare beneficiaries is satisfied with their prescription drug coverage, according to a new survey. Yet Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have both supported measures that would weaken this coverage and deprive seniors of affordable access to medicines.
Their proposed changes particularly endanger Hispanic seniors’ physical and financial health.
Hispanics are far more likely than whites to develop certain serious illnesses, such as liver disease and diabetes. And Latino Medicare beneficiaries tend to have significantly lower incomes than Medicare patients in general.
That’s why the Medicare drug program, also known as Part D, is such a lifeline for the nation’s Latino seniors. Enrollees in the program can choose from a variety of prescription drug plans offered by private insurance companies. The federal government helps pay a large share of their premiums.
That assistance substantially eases the economic burden on poor and previously uninsured seniors. In the program’s first year alone, the number of low-income beneficiaries struggling to make ends meet dropped by 17 percent.
Hispanics seniors with Medicare drug coverage are also finding it easier to stick to their prescribed drug regimens. Before the program was created, Latinos were considerably less likely to continuously use medications as directed, raising their risk of disease.
In the case of heart medication, Latino seniors have improved their drug-adherence rate by 60 percent since Part D launched. The program has also helped lower the incidence of high blood pressure by almost 6 percent.
Medicare Part D is one of the most popular health care programs in the country. Ninety-two percent of seniors say their Part D plans are easy to use. Eight in ten think their plans are a good value.
By improving the health of seniors, Part D is also helping to keep the country’s health spending under control. Seniors who gained prescription drug insurance thanks to Part D made 8 percent fewer visits to the hospital, saving our health system an estimated $1.5 billion per year, according to researchers at the University of Illinois and Johns Hopkins University.
Part D has managed to keep costs down without compromising quality coverage thanks to its competitive structure. By design, insurers must compete to offer the most affordable policies to seniors. These insurers negotiate with pharmaceutical companies to secure reasonable drug prices.
The leading presidential candidates, though, want to replace these private-sector negotiations with federal cost diktats.
Supporters of this change argue that government negotiations will further lower costs. But there is no evidence to support this claim. In fact, economists at the Congressional Budget Office predict that federal meddling could only save money if government officials restrict access to cutting-edge medications. As that CBO has explained, government negotiations carry “the threat of not allowing that drug to be prescribed or putting limitations on its being prescribed within that drug plan.”
In other words, the proposal would severely limit Hispanic seniors’ access to certain medicines.
Medicare Part D is a health lifeline for the Hispanic community. Our representatives — and political candidates — must fight to protect this valuable program, not undo it.
René Rodriguez, M.D., is president and founder of Salud USA, a national group of Hispanic physicians, health care providers and advocates.