Isn’t A ‘Benefit’ Meant To Be Something Good?

If the Medicare prescription-drug benefit were a consumer brand, it would rank (so far) as the biggest dud since the Edsel. A new poll of senior citizens by the Kaiser Family Foundation finds 45 percent saying they’ve enrolled or intend to enroll in one of the program’s drug plans. Another 23 percent aren’t sure one way or another, while 29 percent said they don’t intend to enroll. Among seniors who have decided not to sign up, two-thirds said a major reason is that they already have an insurance plan or program that helps to pay for their prescription drugs. In all, just 23 percent of seniors said they have a favorable impression of the new benefit, vs. 45 percent holding an unfavorable impression of it.

The program continues to baffle its target audience, as you can gather from the chart below. In their attempts to get a better understanding of the benefit, 27 percent of seniors have talked to a pharmacist, 26 percent to a doctor, 17 percent to an insurance agent and 17 percent to a health-insurance counselor. Few have called 1-800-MEDICARE (14 percent) or have gone to the Web site (10 percent). Fewer still (6 percent) have used that Web site to compare drug plans.

Do people find the program as frustrating to deal with once they’ve chosen and enrolled in one of the drug plans it offers? Mercifully, no. In a Wall Street Journal Online/Harris Interactive survey, just 16 percent of those who’ve enrolled in a plan strongly agreed that it has been difficult for them to use; another 10 percent agreed somewhat. Moreover, those who’ve enrolled were more likely to agree than disagree (53 percent vs. 30 percent) that the program “will decrease health-care costs for seniors.” And while not wildly thrilled, enrollees were more likely to disagree than agree with the statement, “I don’t see any benefit for seniors” (56 percent vs. 37 percent).