Access to Prescription Drugs for Medicare Beneficiaries

Despite the introduction of a Medicare outpatient prescription drug benefit in January 2006, roughly the same proportion of elderly Medicare beneficiaries in 2003 and 2007—about 8 percent—skipped filling at least one drug prescription because of cost concerns, according to a new national study by the Center for Studying Health System Change (HSC). However, over the same period, more working-age adults went without a prescribed drug because of cost, suggesting the new Medicare drug benefit prevented a similar deterioration in access for the elderly. However, the new Medicare drug benefit did little to close large prescription drug access gaps between elderly white and African-American beneficiaries, healthier and sicker beneficiaries and lower-income and higher-income beneficiaries. For example, three times as many elderly African-American beneficiaries (17.6%) went without a prescribed medication in 2007 as white beneficiaries (6.2%). And, the proportion of seniors dually eligible for Medicare and Medicaid who went without a prescribed medicine almost doubled between 2003 and 2007—from 10.8 percent to 21.3 percent. In addition, Medicare beneficiaries under age 65—typically eligible because of permanent disability—had more than three times the prescription drug access problems (27.5%) than elderly beneficiaries in 2007.