Medicare Part D: Why Satisfaction Matters

Yesterday, the Healthcare Leadership Council, through its Medicare Today initiative, released its annual survey of seniors nationwide regarding their perceptions of and experiences with the Medicare Part D prescription drug program.  As has been the case since we began these surveys, the program is extraordinarily popular with seniors.  This year’s survey showed that 90 percent of respondents are satisfied with their Part D coverage.  They find their plans easy to use.  They’re saving money.  And, for many, their Part D plan is the difference between adhering to their doctor’s prescriptions and having to skip their medications.

That’s the what.  In this space, I want to discuss the why.  Why does it matter that the Medicare Part D program is so popular?  As some in Congress press to fundamentally change Part D by decimating its current pricing structure — either through mandatory drug company rebates to the government or shifting pricing authority from Part D plans to the Secretary of Health and Human Services — it’s worth noting three reasons why policymakers should take careful note of this program’s high approval ratings.

1)    The program is popular largely because it provides quality pharmaceutical coverage at an affordable price.  The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced this summer that average premiums in 2014 will be about $31 per month.  That’s the fourth straight year premiums have stayed level.  Obviously, competition between Part D plans is proving effective in keeping coverage affordable, a critical factor for seniors on fixed incomes.

2)    The Part D program has defied expectations since its inception.  Skepticism was abundant immediately after its enactment.  Plans wouldn’t participate.  Then, there would be too many plans participating and seniors would get confused.  The program would be a boondoggle for taxpayers.  Well, the results are in, and each state has an ample selection of plans.  Our survey shows seniors are negotiating the program without difficulty.  And overall program spending is 45 percent below original Congressional Budget Office projections.

3)    At a time in which citizens’ faith in government is at a disturbing low, a program that is overwhelmingly popular and that is spending at a rate far below expectations — certainly a rarity in Washington — is worth protecting, not remaking.

We’ll be sharing these survey results with members of Congress.  It’s our hope that lawmakers who are eyeing changes to Part D will realize that the program clearly isn’t broken and doesn’t need fixing.