Prescription Drug Coverage for Older Americans

Public Opinion About Prescription Drug Coverage for Older Americans

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

by Joseph Carroll

Public Support for Medicare Prescription Drug Benefits Varies

There is a high level of support among Americans for the idea of providing prescription drug coverage for older Americans under Medicare. A June 2003 CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll found that 76% of Americans supported "legislation that would spend $400 billion over the next 10 years to create a new Medicare program that would help senior citizens pay for prescription drugs," while 19% did not. An ABC News/Washington Post poll conducted in October found similar results. Three-quarters of Americans in that poll said they supported "a new federal program that would help pay prescription drug expenses for senior citizens, at a cost of 400 billion dollars over the next 10 years."

This high level of support for the concept of prescription drug coverage is not absolute. The National Annenberg Election Survey asked Americans the following question on the topic in mid-November:

Republicans in Congress have agreed on a Medicare bill intended to provide a prescription drug benefit for seniors and to enable private companies like HMOs to provide Medicare coverage. Supporters say the drug benefit is an important first step and private companies will reduce the cost of Medicare. Opponents say the drug benefit won't help many seniors very much and letting HMOs in will eventually destroy Medicare. What do you think? Should Congress pass this bill or not?

The results showed that only 40% of respondents said Congress should pass the legislation, while 42% opposed it. It is likely that specific elements of the question's wording, particularly those that stressed the fact that it was a plan pushed by Republicans and that it would benefit HMOs, prompted the lower levels of support.

Seniors Not Convinced Plan Will Improve Situation, Most Already Covered

Gallup polling conducted in August found that while seniors (adults aged 65 and older) support the basic concept of prescription drug coverage under Medicare, they are not sold on the idea that a prescription drug plan will end up benefiting them significantly. Roughly a quarter of seniors said the proposed changes to Medicare would improve their situations, and essentially the same percentage said it would make their situations worse. Forty-three percent of seniors said it would have no effect. Even adults aged 18 to 64 were reluctant to think the Medicare proposals would improve the situations in their families. Seventeen percent of 18- to 64-year-olds said the Medicare proposals would improve the situation for themselves and their families, 29% said it would hurt their families' situations, and 42% said it would have no effect.

Another question asked whether the proposals would do enough to help senior citizens pay for the cost of prescription drugs. The August poll showed that just 23% of seniors said the proposals would do enough to pay the costs of prescription drugs, while 70% said it would not do enough.

A majority of seniors are already covered by some prescription drug plan. Nearly two-thirds of seniors said they have a health insurance plan that helps pay for the cost of prescription drugs. Thirty-six percent of seniors are not covered by such a plan.

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