A Benefit for All


A Benefit for All

Regardless of your political leanings, you’ve got to take the recently passed Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit as good news. It’s good news for many senior citizens, and it’s good news for your company.

Republicans have praised the benefit, while Democrats have criticized it. But, politics aside, any program that gets more prescription drugs into the hands of seniors and other Medicare recipients will benefit public health and the pharmaceutical industry. 

Here’s why. Many elders and disabled patients who struggled to pay for their prescriptions will now be able to afford them. Also, lower-income patients won’t be as eager to seek prescription drug bargains from unauthorized providers, like non-U.S. pharmacies and undocumented Internet pharmacies. 

It’s no surprise that monthly costs for prescription drugs often eat up the limited incomes of elderly and disabled consumers. The Rand Corp. reported in 1999 that “a large fraction of drug cost (67%) [in 1990] was paid for out-of-pocket. The elderly spent an average of 3.1% of their household income on [prescriptions].” For some elderly patients, however, that percentage of income is more than double, the report states.

These percentages may not sound like much. But when you are talking about monthly incomes of $1000 or less, which is what my grandmother received in the last months of her life, $31 can strain pocketbooks. We’ve all heard the horror stories of cash-strapped seniors having to choose between food and medicine. 

But even if a patient’s straits aren’t so dire, if he or she has a limited income, he or she may look to save money. For instance, seniors often halve or skip doses to stretch their prescriptions. (One of my grandmother’s most trusted tools was her handheld pill splitter.) Some also forgo refilling prescriptions that aren’t immediately crucial for daily survival. Because of such prescription stretching or skipping, drug regimen compliance suffers, threatening patient health. Not to mention drug company profit.

Also, limited-income seniors and other patients may be more inclined to search for prescription bargains. The other day my father, who suffers from multiple sclerosis and injects Avonex monthly, said he was going to visit a local pharmacy because it advertised reimported drugs. I told him that the last thing he wanted to do was to obtain an injectable drug that requires refrigeration from a long distance, let alone from another country. 

The Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit promises to make prescriptions more affordable for seniors and other recipients. According to a press release from the White House, “seniors without coverage would be able to join a Medicare-approved plan that would cut their yearly drug costs roughly in half, in exchange for a $35 monthly premium. In many cases, the savings will be even greater.” For instance, “seniors with no drug coverage and monthly drug costs of $200 would save more than $1700 on drug costs each year.”

This benefit is the first step in the right direction for seniors. I haven’t studied the fine print or read all the commentary, but it appears as though low-income patients will get some relief without having to alter regimens or trust unauthorized entities. 

The drug industry will also benefit. More prescriptions will be filled and refilled. Alan F. Holmer, president and CEO of PhRMA, agrees. “We applaud Congress for producing . . . legislation that improves patients’ access to quality, affordable medical care.”

With greater access to prescription drugs, Medicare recipients will have better means to follow their drug regimens. Of your products.

Daphne Allen


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