Date: October 1st, 2005
At the Alliance for Aging Research, we are committed to a vision of healthy longevity for millions of Americans, made possible through advances in science and technology. We focus on research and initiatives that show promise for realization 10, 20, even 50 years from now.
For many people, however, aging cannot wait 10 years because it is immediate and everyday. Even though Americans in the 21st century are already benefiting from scientific progress and living longer, healthier lives, growing older still increases our risk for a number of chronic diseases that can be both disabling and life-threatening. As we age, our likelihood of contracting a chronic disease increases steadily, so that by the time we reach age 65, nearly nine out of ten of us are faced with at least one chronic condition.
The toll imposed by chronic disease is high, burdening people with both functional limitations and increased dependence. At the same time, it is presenting our older population with a costly and growing medical bill. In fact, ongoing prescription use, doctor visits, and hospitalization by people with chronic disease account for three-fourths of this country’s annual spending on health care.
While prescription drugs are already helping people to enjoy a better quality of life in old age, their cost is a burden to many. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average 75-year-old suffers from three chronic conditions and takes five prescription medications. Those people with chronic conditions filled significantly more prescriptions than those without. In 2000, an average total of prescriptions used by an individual with 5 or more conditions was 57, compared to 10 for someone with no chronic conditions.
The Medicare prescription drug benefit begins providing coverage on January 1, 2006. This new insurance plan covers both brand-name and generic prescription drugs for everyone who has Medicare. But this benefit is not the only option available for seniors who need help paying for their medicines. For those who are not eligible for Medicare, prescription assistance programs can help.
The Together Rx Access program, for example, is sponsored by ten major pharmaceutical companies and provides qualified uninsured enrollees of all ages with a card that saves them 25 to 40 percent on their prescriptions. Together Rx Access comes on the heels of the successful Together Rx program, which provided assistance specifically to seniors who had Medicare coverage but no prescription drug coverage. That program and others like it will end in 2006 as the new Medicare prescription coverage begins.
Individual states have also provided much needed help through their own senior prescription assistance programs. While some of these may end with the implementation of the Medicare drug program, others will remain intact, perhaps with some changes. Many will require those who are eligible to sign up for the Medicare prescription program and will then provide assistance to fill in the gaps between coverage and the actual cost of the prescription. Each state is free to choose how it wants to respond to the new Medicare law.
On surveys, people often cite being able to afford the cost of prescription drugs as one of their main concerns about growing older. It is clear that these fears are well-founded, as prescription drug costs continue to rise and constitute a significant share of the nation’s health care burden. But there is help out there that will ensure that no one has to choose between paying for medication and paying for rent.