The COVID-19 pandemic has thrust the United States into an unprecedented period of uncertainty. America has been ravaged by this public health crisis as states across the country continue to report tens of thousands of new cases daily. While individuals of all ages, race and creed have been impacted by COVID-19, older Americans and individuals with underlying conditions have borne the brunt of this virus. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 80 percent of COVID-19 related deaths in the United States have occurred among adults 65 and older.
That is why, during these challenging times, it is critical that policymakers focus on initiatives that expand health coverage and bring down costs while also protecting our most vulnerable populations by ensuring policy does not impact essential access to care, treatments and medication.
The cost of prescription drugs has been a front-burner issue in our society even prior to the pandemic. One in five adults ages 60 and older have reported struggling to afford their prescription medication. When seniors have to leave their prescriptions at the pharmacy because of affordability, it means disrupted adherence to treatment regimens and potentially life-threatening consequences as well as increased overall healthcare costs. No American should have to delay or stop their use of life-saving prescription medication due to excessive out-of-pocket costs that force individuals to choose between their health and financial solvency.
However, the Medicare Part D prescription drug program has been a bright spot that has provided America’s seniors access to affordable prescription drugs and is highly rated among its beneficiaries. Beneficiaries of the Part D program pay a monthly premium to an insurance carrier of their choice for their plan. The beneficiary can then use the carrier’s network of pharmacies to access essential medications. In addition, rather than paying full price, beneficiaries will pay just a copay or percentage of the drug’s cost while the insurer will pay the rest.
Given that millions of seniors and beneficiaries with disabilities depend upon Medicare Part D for affordable access to needed medications, Morning Consult recently polled these beneficiaries for the Medicare Today coalition’s annual Senior Satisfaction Survey that provides insight on their thoughts of the program. According to this polling, an overwhelming majority of beneficiaries are happy with their coverage. Ninety-two percent of polled individuals are satisfied with their Medicare Prescription Drug coverage. Eighty-seven percent believe their plan provides good value, and 81 percent are happy with their out of pocket costs under their Part D plan. And statistics from the Department of Health and Human Services have shown the average monthly Part D premium staying stable for several years now.
It is important to continue enhancing this program, but policymakers should think twice about changing the fundamental structure of a program that has worked well by giving seniors a choice among plans that are competing to provide the best value.
In the midst of the current global health crisis, all patients, especially the elderly and those who struggle with chronic or debilitating illnesses should never see their access to lifesaving medication placed at risk. Policymakers should not pursue any approaches that would undermine already successful programs and instead focus on common sense reforms that directly increase access and affordability for patients. As the Morning Consult survey indicates, programs like Medicare Part D are crucial to seniors and must be preserved.
Mary R. Grealy is president of the Healthcare Leadership Council, a coalition of chief executives representing all sectors of American health care and it focuses consumer-centered health care reform, emphasizing the value of private sector innovation.