KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

Sebelius, Berwick Tout Drop In Medicare Rx Costs

News outlets heavily covered the announcement from HHS that Part D beneficiaries will pay less next year.

Los Angeles Times: Cost Of Medicare's Part D Drug Plan Is Dropping
Even as health costs continue to rise, Medicare beneficiaries will see the average price of a Part D drug plan decline slightly next year, the Obama administration announced Thursday, offering some relief amid pressure to cut the federal health insurance program for the elderly (Levey, 8/5).

Politico: Medicare Prescription Drug Costs To Go Down 
On a conference call with reporters, administration officials pushed new data that said seniors have saved $460 million in prescription drugs since the health care law came into effect - citing drug discounts and doughnut hole rebates. But the bigger news, buried slightly underneath the mountains of data about the ACA, was that premiums for private Part D benefits in 2012 will average about $30 - down from $30.76 in 2011 (Nocera, 8/4). 

CQ HealthBeat: Medicare Prescription Drug Premiums Stable As Uncertainty Swirls About Cuts
Health and Human Services officials on Thursday touted the benefits of the health care law and the prescription drug benefit for Medicare beneficiaries even as speculation is rampant that the debt deal could ultimately mean the program will face cuts (Norman, 8/4). 

The Hill's Healthwatch: Healthcare Law Has Saved Seniors $460 Million On Drugs, HHS Says 
As part of the reform law, the pharmaceutical industry agreed to offer a 50 percent discount for brand-name prescription drugs in the Medicare "doughnut hole" - the coverage gap in which seniors pay for their drugs out of pocket (Baker, 8/4).

Kaiser Health News:  HHS: Millions Of Seniors Taking Advantage Of The Health Law
The number of Medicare beneficiaries being helped by the 2010 health care overhaul continues to pile up, Obama administration boasted today. ... Today they announced that so far this year: About 17 million seniors in the traditional fee-for service Medicare program have had one of those preventive tests without paying a co-payment or deductible. More than 1 million seniors have used the new Medicare wellness visit (Galewitz, 8/4).

Bloomberg: Medicare Drug Premiums Won't Increase In 2012, U.S. Says
The steady or decreasing premiums are being driven by competition among the private plans as well as increased use of generic drugs and drugs coming off of patent protection, said Berwick  (Armstrong, 8/4). 

The Associated Press: Medicare Prescription Premiums Won't Rise In 2012 
Many seniors may even see a dip in their costs, particularly if they shop around during open enrollment season this fall. ... Medicare covers about 47 million seniors and disabled people. Overall, about 9 in 10 beneficiaries have some kind of prescription drug plan. Some still get benefits through their former employers. But more than half rely on the prescription program, also known as Part D (Alonso-Zaldivar, 8/4). 

Reuters: Medicare Prescription Drug Premiums To Fall
The government subsidizes the gap between the premium patients pay and the amount that insurers bid to the program. On Wednesday, the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released the 2012 nationwide bid information for Part D. The average bid by insurers declined to $84.50 a month, down 2.9 percent from 2011's $87.05 (Seaman, 8/4). 

Meanwhile -

MarketWatch: Medicare Fears Haunt Drug Stocks
Pharmaceutical stocks, generally considered a safe-haven because their non-cyclical nature, were especially hard hit by the economic fallout. By Thursday afternoon, the NYSE Arca Pharmaceutical Index had slid 6.2% to 304, a level not seen since late March. Sector analysts this week attributed some of the volatility to investors cashing out of the sector, which had done comparatively well against many of its peers. But fears of possible cutbacks in Medicare prescription benefits definitely fanned selling (Kennedy, 8/4). 

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