More than 90 percent of Americans age 65 and older now have prescription drug coverage, compared to more than 75 percent who were covered in 2004, according to a University of Michigan analysis. And poor seniors are as likely to have coverage as the rich.

The analysis compares drug coverage among a nationally representative sample of 10,175 older Americans who were interviewed both in 2004 and in 2006, when the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit started. The report was presented in Washington, D.C.

The interviews are part of the on-going Health and Retirement Study, conducted by the U-M Institute for Social Research (ISR) and funded primarily by the National Institute on Aging,

"Despite widespread complaints that the Part D plan is complex and confusing, our findings suggest that older Americans have been able to make good choices," said U-M economist David Weir, who directs the ISR Health and Retirement Study. Weir conducted the analysis with U-M economist Helen Levy.

They presented their findings at the National Press Club, at a conference on "Challenges and Solutions for Retirement Security" sponsored by the Social Security Administration and the Retirement Research Consortium.

In 2004, nearly a quarter (23 percent) of Americans age 65 and older lacked prescription drug coverage, Levy and Weir found, compared with fewer than 10 percent in 2006.

The overall enrollment figures found in this study were quite similar to those reported by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, with roughly a quarter of Medicare beneficiaries enrolled in stand-alone Part D coverage in 2006.

But using data from the Health and Retirement Study, the researchers were able to go beyond the official statistics to show that rich and poor were equally likely to sign up for Part D and private coverage, and to lack coverage. Wealthy elders were much more likely to have employer-provided drug coverage, but poorer seniors were much more likely to get drug coverage through Medicaid.

Equally importantly, the researchers were able to show that the most common reason people chose not to obtain prescription drug coverage was that they used few or no drugs.

The study also asked people about the difficulty of the decision process, and whether they were confident that they had made a good choice. Only about one in six people reported that their decision about whether to sign up for Part D was very or somewhat difficult. The vast majority said the decision was not very difficult or not difficult at all. The majority of Part D plan enrollees (69 percent) reported feeling very or somewhat confident about having made the right decision, and 86 percent of them planned to sign up again the following year.

While Levy and Weir caution that their analysis is preliminary, the findings indicate that despite widespread criticisms, the Part D plan has succeeded in boosting drug coverage for U.S. seniors, especially for those who need it most. "Fewer than 10 percent of seniors lack drug coverage now," Weir said. "And those with worse self-reported health and higher use of prescription drugs in 2004 were more likely than others to sign up."


The Retirement Research Consortium consists of three multidisciplinary centers: the Michigan Retirement Research Center at ISR, the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, and the NBER Retirement Research Center

U-M Institute for Social Research (ISR)
Michigan Retirement Research Center
ISR Health and Retirement Study

Established in 1948, the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research (ISR) is among the world's oldest academic survey research organizations, and a world leader in the development and application of social science methodology. ISR conducts some of the most widely-cited studies in the nation, including the Reuters/University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers, the American National Election Studies, the Monitoring the Future Study, the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, the Health and Retirement Study, and the National Survey of Black Americans. ISR researchers also collaborate with social scientists in more than 60 nations on the World Values Surveys and other projects, and the Institute has established formal ties with universities in Poland, China and South Africa. ISR is also home to the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR), the world's largest computerized social science data archive. Visit the ISR web site at for more information.

Source: Diane Swanbrow
University of Michigan

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