Published Online: Thursday, March 1, 2007

Just 2 years ago, older Americans were the least likely segment of the population to be covered by drug insurance, and the most likely group to pay for prescription medicines out of pocket. Thanks to the Medicare Part D drug program, such is no longer the case, health experts have told Congress.

Of the >43 million Medicare beneficiaries who are eligible for Part D, >39 million now have some form of creditable prescription-drug coverage, said government officials. The number includes 24 million enrolled in Part D stand-alone plans or Medicare Advantage plans with drug coverage. Another 7 million retirees are enrolled in employer-or union-sponsored programs that receive the Retiree Drug Subsidy; 3 million others are in federal retiree programs such as TRICARE; and 5 million more are receiving drug coverage from alternative sources such as the Veterans Administration.

Officials at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services are crediting Part D for significantly closing the drug-coverage gap for seniors. Others, however, look at the same numbers and conclude that the glass is half empty.

Even though 9 of every 10 seniors now have prescription-drug benefits, representatives from the US National Council on Aging told Congress that as many as 4.4 million eligible people still have not enrolled for a subsidy under Medicare's prescriptiondrug plan. Separate figures released by the Senate identified 2.9 million people who have not enrolled in Part D and currently have no prescription-drug coverage.

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