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My view: Medicare Part D keeps seniors healthy

By Jeanetta Williams

Published: Thursday, Dec. 6 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, center, and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, left, listen as Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius speaks at a news conference on the Social Security and Medicare Trustees Reports, Monday, April 23, 2012, at the Treasury Department in Washington. Trustees update forecasts for the government's two largest benefit programs, which are laboring under the weight of retiring baby boomers, revenue shortages and politicians' reluctance to take painful action to fix them. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Susan Walsh, AP

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With Medicare serving as a hot topic for debate as of late, it's easy to be unsure of what's fact and what's fiction. And with Medicare open enrollment taking place Oct. 15-Dec. 7, now is a good time to review one of its most successful programs, Medicare Part D.

It's rare for a government program to perform well and cost less than originally forecast. Yet, Medicare Part D, now in its sixth year, has done just that. According to Congressional Budget Office figures, the program is coming in 43 percent ($435 billion) below initial projections, saving money for both the government and beneficiaries. In March, the CBO reduced its Part D spending projection for 2013 through 2022 by $107 billion. It works because it encourages market-based competition, which helps keep costs down.

Medicare Part D offers a wide range of plan options that help ensure seniors have access to the medications they need, keeping them healthier and out of our already over-crowded hospitals. In fact, studies show that improving access to affordable medications results in higher adherence to doctors' orders, improving the overall health of seniors and reducing costly, avoidable hospitalizations. In doing so, we also help keep our seniors independent, something that's vitally important for both mind and spirit.

Additionally, the Journal of the American Medical Association found that improved access and adherence to medication through Medicare Part D saves Medicare about $1,200 per year in hospital, nursing home and other costs for each senior who did not previously have comprehensive drug coverage. Totaling savings of about $12 billion per year for the Medicare program, Part D has become a valuable and cost-efficient part of our nation's overburdened health care system at a time when it is needed the most.

Before the creation of Medicare Part D in 2006, many treatments were too expensive for as much as a third of the elderly population. Today, 90 percent of all Medicare beneficiaries (40 million people) have comprehensive prescription drug coverage via Medicare Part D. And what's more, they're happy with their coverage. According to a 2012 survey by Medicare Today, 90 percent of seniors enrolled in Medicare Part D are satisfied with their coverage, and 96 percent say their coverage works well. Very few programs have garnered this level of user satisfaction and success.

By reducing health care system spending, Medicare Part D is helping to control government costs. Considering the country's deficit, that can only be a good thing. Still, Part D remains a potential target for budget cuts. It's up to us — all of us — to remind our legislators how important this program is and to support those who protect it. I encourage you to reach out to your local and U.S. legislators today to tell them why protecting Medicare Part D is so important for the future of our seniors and the vitality of our nation's health care system.

Jeanetta Williams serves as president of the NAACP Tri-State Conference of Idaho, Nevada and Utah.

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