Former HHS Secretary: Medicare drug benefit is working

Former HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson says the Medicare drug benefit is working for patients.

Former US Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson took the time to answer a few questions from PhRMA about the Medicare prescription drug benefit, which was enacted during his time in office.

In short, he says, the program is working for patients.

My early experience is that the prescription drug benefit is working as we thought it would. Seniors are satisfied with the program. For the first time, seniors are getting meaningful prescription drug assistance.

There was concern raised that there were too many choices, and seniors wouldn’t be able to understand those choices. That concern is not playing out. Seniors are getting adequate information, and are able to make choices in their best interests. Just as we thought, acting in their best interests creates a market dynamic that keeps the program cost lower than what we even initially projected.

Later, Thompson discusses whether changes are needed to the program.

You are always going to see policymakers want to make adjustments to the program, but major adjustments could disrupt the market and increase costs. In this fiscal environment, why would you take a program that is working to push down prices and risk decreasing its effectiveness? Rather than change Part D, I would apply the lessons learned to other aspects of the Medicare program.

As Thompson mentioned, here’s growing evidence that access to prescription medicines through Medicare Part D is reducing costs throughout the system and improving health for seniors. For example, American seniors’ increased access to medicines via the Medicare prescription drug program led to reduced spending on post-acute care such as hospitals and nursing homes.

One change being made under the health reform law signed by the president last year closes part of the coverage gap that seniors pay once their prescription drug costs reach a certain level. As part of its support for health care reform legislation, the pharmaceutical industry agreed to cut out-of-pocket costs on brand name medicines by 50 percent for Medicare patients who reach the coverage gap – known as the “donut hole.”

AstraZeneca also provides support to Medicare patients who need help paying for our medicines through our prescription savings programs. Click here to learn more about this program and whether AstraZeneca may be able to help you or your family save on your prescription drug costs.