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Protecting Medicare Part D in light of Wisconsin’s ‘elder boom’

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Brian Renk
October 29, 2011

Although Washington’s painful debt-ceiling negotiations likely produced more than a few gray hairs, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan offered a refreshing viewpoint with his support for Medicare Part D within this arduous process.


It’s a good thing Ryan and his fellow members of Congress opted to avoid including government-mandated rebates and price controls in Medicare Part D as part of the final debt-ceiling agreement. If they hadn’t, thousands of baby boomers could be spending more time in hospitals and nursing homes, and our economy would likely look even bleaker.


The truth is that Medicare Part D, which has provided seniors with unprecedented access to medicines at affordable prices, has been an overwhelming success. In Wisconsin, where the Department of Health Services has predicted an “elder boom” during the coming decades, we’re smart to consider the positive impact of the Medicare Part D program and thank Ryan for preserving its integrity.


First and foremost, the program increases access to lifesaving medications and treatments that otherwise might not be available to seniors. With so many groundbreaking medical advances at our fingertips, we shouldn’t keep these medicines from those who need them most. Nationally, more than 29 million people have enrolled in Medicare Part D, and more than 90 percent of Medicare beneficiaries have comprehensive drug coverage. Eighty-four percent are quite satisfied with their coverage under Part D, according to a recent survey.


Increased access to medicines can lead to improved quality of life and the extended ability to live independently, which most of us look forward to in our golden years.


Beyond the human impact, there are measurable cost benefits, too. Harvard researchers recently found in a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association that Part D saves Medicare about $1,200 per year in hospital, nursing home and other nondrug costs for each senior who previously lacked comprehensive prescription drug coverage. Other researchers have estimated this translates into savings of about $12 billion a year.


Meanwhile, costs to seniors are decreasing as savings are being passed on to beneficiaries. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services just announced that average monthly Part D premiums for 2012 will fall slightly, to $30. That means we’re spending about 44 percent less in premiums than anticipated based on original projections, not to mention the Congressional Budget Office recently reported that spending across the entire Medicare Part D program is 41 percent lower than its initial 10-year estimate.


This happens because biopharmaceutical research companies and Medicare Part D plan managers work together to define the plan parameters, ultimately yielding lower premiums and cost-sharing. Many brand-name medicines feature significant rebates through Medicare Part D—often as much as 20-30 percent. We can’t afford to lose these savings.


It’s clear that even with the debt-ceiling negotiations behind us, Washington still has hard work to do to reinvigorate our economy, create jobs and rein in spending. As our nation tackles these challenges, let’s hope Rep. Ryan and other congressional leaders continue to protect this valuable program.


Brian Renk is executive director of BioFoward, a member-driven state association that is the voice of Wisconsin’s bioscience industry. Members include bioscience companies, universities, nonprofits, service providers, and state, regional and local government representatives. Website www.wisconsinbiotech.org. Contact Renk at brenk@bioforward.org; phone (608) 236-4753.

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