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Seniors in Medicare's doughnut hole decrease use of meds
Date:2/2/2009

PITTSBURGH, Feb. 3 Beneficiaries enrolled in Medicare Part D who reached a gap in health care coverage known as the "doughnut hole" were much less likely to use prescription drugs than those with an employer-based plan, according to a University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health study. The findings, published in the Feb. 3 online issue of Health Affairs, raise concerns about health consequences and increased costs from hospitalizations and physician visits that may arise from lack of coverage. To protect seniors, the authors suggest a change in policy that would mandate the coverage of generic drugs in the doughnut hole through a modest increase in initial prescription co-pays.

Medicare Part D, which offers prescription drug coverage for Medicare beneficiaries, took effect in January 2006. A controversial aspect of its design is the doughnut hole, a gap in coverage of prescription drugs that in 2006 occurred when annual individual drug expenditures reached $2,250. The purpose of the annual spending cap is to keep the cost of the program within federally approved limits. Since its inception, "there have been few studies to tell us what happens to beneficiaries once they enter the doughnut hole," said the study's lead author, Yuting Zhang, Ph.D., assistant professor of health economics at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health.

Dr. Zhang and colleagues compared two groups of senior citizens with Medicare drug coverage provided by a large Pennsylvania insurer in 2006. One group was covered through more generous employer-sponsored plans with full coverage in the doughnut hole and the other was covered through Medicare Advantage prescription drug plans (MA-PD) with either no doughnut hole drug coverage or generic coverage only.

They found that one in four (25 percent) of Pennsylvanians enrolled in an MA-PD reached the doughnut hole, but only one in 20 (5 percent) of that subset of individuals
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Contact: Clare Collins
CollCX@upmc.edu
412-647-3555
University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences
Source:Eurekalert

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