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Medicare Drug Plan Cost $32 Billion in 2006
Date:11/1/2007

Seniors filled 158 million more prescriptions after program's launch, study found

THURSDAY, Nov. 1 (HealthDay News) -- In 2006, introduction of the U.S. Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit increased the number of seniors' prescriptions by 158 million, at a cost of $32 billion to Medicare, a new study concludes.

Reporting in the November/December issue of the journal Health Affairs, the study authors noted that many seniors who enrolled in the Medicare drug benefit already had prescription drug coverage, so the new benefit reduced the average amount paid by seniors per day of therapy by 18.4 percent, while increasing their use of prescription drugs by only 13 percent.

"The rhetoric surrounding Medicare Part D's potential impact on seniors' medication use and savings on drug costs doesn't match the reality. The increase in drug utilization and decrease in cost to the elderly was relatively minor," study co-author Frank Lichtenberg, a business professor at Columbia University, said in a prepared statement.

Beginning in January 2006, the Medicare Part D drug benefit was available to all 43 million Medicare beneficiaries. In this study, the researchers analyzed data on 584 million prescriptions filled at the Walgreens pharmacy chain from September 2004 to December 2006.

They found that Medicare patients paid about 66 cents per day of medication therapy in September 2004. That decreased to about 53 cents per day of medication therapy by December 2006.

However, after they factored in the increased number of prescriptions that followed the introduction of Medicare Part D, the researchers concluded that the amount paid by patients decreased only 5.6 percent, while the amount paid by private insurers increased by 22.3 percent.

The researchers also examined by how much Medicare Part D reduced private insurance coverage or spending, known as the "crowd-out rate." They found that every
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