Medicare Drug Plan Still Not Generating Much Enthusiasm

by Frank Newport

Majority of Americans say plan is not working

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- Americans aged 65 and older continue to resist signing up for the new Medicare prescription drug program than went into effect on Jan. 1. Just 22% of those 65 and older report having joined the program (as of the Jan. 20-22 interview dates for the new CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll). Only 15% say they plan to join in the future. That leaves 55% who say they do not plan to join, and 7% who say they don't know.

Have you, personally, joined the new prescription drug benefit program for Medicare recipients, do you plan to join, or do you not plan to join?

BASED ON 229 ADULTS AGED 65 AND OLDER


Joined

Plan to
join

Do not
plan

to join

No
opinion

2006 Jan 20-22

22%

15

55

7

These findings are roughly similar to data from a number of surveys conducted in the second half of 2005 that asked seniors about the plan.

Seniors were asked five times from July 2005 through December 2005 whether they planned to "join the new prescription drug benefit program for Medicare recipients." The percentage of those 65 and older saying "no" fluctuated from 65% in July to 54% in September and back to 67% in December, but at no point dipped below 50%. In short, seniors have resisted the idea of joining the new plan since last summer.

Do you plan to join the new prescription drug benefit program for Medicare recipients, or not?

BASED ON ADULTS AGED 65 AND OLDER

Yes

No

No
opinion

%

%

%

2005 Dec 16-18

28

67

5

2005 Dec 9-11

34

56

10

2005 Sep 26-28

24

54

22

2005 Aug 5-7

24

63

13

2005 Jul 22-24

20

65

15

A Dec. 16-18 Gallup Poll found that the majority of seniors say they did not understand the new drug plan. Interestingly, the 35% of those 65 and older who claim to understand the new drug plan somewhat or very well in December is virtually the same as the 34% who said they understood it in July. So, despite the massive effort to educate seniors about the ins and outs of the new plan, understanding essentially did not change.

How well do you, personally, understand the prescription drug benefit program that will be offered to Medicare recipients -- very well, somewhat well, not too well, or not at all?

BASED ON ADULTS AGED 65 AND OLDER

Very
well

Somewhat
well

Not too
well

Not
at all

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

%

2005 Dec 16-18

14

21

30

32

3

2005 Dec 9-11

20

22

26

29

3

2005 Sep 26-28

12

25

32

29

2

2005 Aug 5-7

12

25

33

26

4

2005 Jul 22-24

11

23

40

24

2

The negative reaction to the new Medicare drug plan extends beyond seniors. It appears that the shortcomings of the plan have extended into the consciousness of all Americans regardless of age. More than half of Americans say that based on what they have read or heard, the program is not working; just 27% think it is working.

As you may know, a new government program began on January 1 that provides prescription drug coverage to Medicare recipients. Based on what you have read or heard, do you think that program is working or not working?

Working

Not
working

No
opinion

2006 Jan 20-22

27%

54

20

Of great interest is that the perception that the program is working is lower, not higher, as age increases. Thirty-eight percent of those aged 18 to 29 think it is working; the percentage drops to only 20% among those 65 and older.

As you may know, a new government program began on January 1 that provides prescription drug coverage to Medicare recipients. Based on what you have read or heard, do you think that program is working or not working?

Working

Not
working

No opinion

Age

%

%

%

18 to 29

38

43

19

30 to 49

28

52

20

50 to 64

22

59

19

65+

20

58

22

It would not appear, however, that the fallout from the unpopular program will be negative for politicians who initially supported it. Three separate surveys show that a majority of seniors say they would be more likely than less likely to vote for a member of Congress who supported the Medicare prescription drug benefit program.

Would you be more likely or less likely to vote for a member of Congress who supported the Medicare prescription drug benefit program?

BASED ON 229 ADULTS AGED 65 AND OLDER

More
likely

Less
likely

NO
DIFFERENCE
(vol.)

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

2006 Jan 20-22

53

34

6

7

2005 Dec 16-18

51

31

15

3

2005 Dec 9-11

50

33

11

6

(vol.) = Volunteered response

In other words, even though the program is viewed as not working and even though a majority of seniors say they are not going to join it, seniors apparently appreciate that Congress was attempting to fix the problem.

This exemplifies the somewhat conflicting attitudes Americans have about the government's role in helping address healthcare concerns. For example, a Nov. 7-10 Gallup Poll showed that almost 6 in 10 Americans believe it is the federal government's responsibility to make sure all Americans have healthcare coverage.

But at the same time, there has consistently been less than majority support for the idea of a government-run healthcare system. (The same November poll found 41% prefer replacing the current system with a new government-run healthcare system, while 49% prefer maintaining the current system based mostly on private health insurance and 10% had no opinion. This did mark an increase in the percentage wanting to replace the current system.)

The current Jan. 20-22 poll finds a similar pattern of sentiment on the issue of who should be running the Medicare prescription drug program. Forty-seven percent of Americans say it would be better for private insurance companies to administer the program for Medicare recipients, while 43% say it would be better for the government to run it.

Healthcare has become a top domestic concern for Americans. Healthcare costs are among the top financial problems facing Americans' families. Healthcare is named as one of the top economic problems for the country as a whole. Healthcare costs are volunteered as the top specific health problem facing the country above and beyond diseases such as cancer. And when given a list of issues, Americans are about as likely to say healthcare policy is extremely or very important for the president and Congress to deal with in the next year as terrorism, Iraq, and the economy.

Survey Methods

These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,006 adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Jan. 20-22, 2006. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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