PHARMACY

Medicare drug costs face jump, hurting seniors, advocates warn

BY Jim Frederick

WASHINGTON An expected jump in Medicare Part D drug coverage premiums next year could put a squeeze on lower-income seniors and disrupt their ability to take advantage of the federal drug benefit, an advocacy group warned today.

More than two million Medicare beneficiaries may once again “face a disruption to their prescription drug coverage,” according to a report issued today by the National Senior Citizens Law Center [NSCLC]. “Skyrocketing premium costs and a dramatic reduction in plans available will require [beneficiaries] to switch to new Medicare Part D plans to avoid new costs,” the group added.

The NSCLC isn’t alone in warning of dramatic increases in the costs seniors will incur next year for their participation in Part D, as the privately run prescription drug plans that administer the program jack up out-of-pocket premiums and other rates. Avalere Health, a Washington-based policy and health care consulting group, also foresees a shifting Medicare drug coverage landscape.

“There are sizable changes in Medicare Part D for 2009, as health plans further calibrate their offerings to achieve profitability,” Avalere noted. “Aggressive spikes in average monthly premiums will test consumers’ loyalty in a year where beneficiaries may have no tolerance for absorbing additional out-of-pocket costs.”

According to NSCLC, changes to the 2009 Part D plans will force low-income beneficiaries “to switch to new plans or face premiums that they cannot afford.” It could also limit access to the medicines prescribed by those patients’ doctors, according to the report.

“The Low Income Subsidy program provides total or partial premium assistance to over 9 million low-income seniors and individuals with disabilities,” noted the group. “These Medicare beneficiaries only receive the full benefit of the subsidy if they enroll in plans with premiums below an amount set yearly by Medicare.

“Because Medicare Part D benefits are administered through private insurance companies, premium costs change from year-to-year and so do the plans that are fully covered by the subsidy,” added NSCLC.

With open enrollment for selecting a new plan now underway, as of Nov. 15, “We are trying to get the word out now to help beneficiaries avoid a disruption in access to their medications,” said Kevin Prindiville, staff attorney for the organization. at the National Senior Citizens Law Center.

“Everyone who receives premium assistance from Medicare for their Part D benefit should make sure that the subsidy will continue to cover their plan premiums and that their plan will continue to cover their prescriptions,” Prindiville added. “All beneficiaries need to make sure that the plan they will be enrolled in for 2009 covers the drugs they need.”

Chrissy Kopple, spokesperson for the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, said the group is looking at the implications of rising Part D costs.

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FDA grants conditional approval to generic version of Wyeth’s Effexor

BY Alaric DeArment

PITTSBURGH The Food and Drug Administration has given tentative approval to a generic version of Wyeth Pharmaceutical’s Effexor XR, an antidepressant.

Mylan announced the FDA decision Monday for its version of the drug, known generically as venlafaxine hydrochloride. Mylan plans to sell the extended-release capsules in 37.5 mg, 75 mg and 150 mg formulations.

The branded version of the drug had sales of $3 billion during the 12 months ending Sept. 30, according to IMS Health.

 

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Interpol seizes more than $6 million in counterfeit prescription drugs in Asia

BY Alaric DeArment

NEW YORK More than $6 million in counterfeit drugs were seized in an international Interpol sting as part of an investigation lasting five months.

The bust, called Operation Storm, netted $6.65 million in counterfeits of drugs for malaria, HIV and tuberculosis in Singapore, Myanmar, Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and China.

The international law-enforcement agency arrested 27 people in the sting.

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