When the Medicare prescription drug benefit begins on January 1, 2006, about seven million beneficiaries face more restricted drug formularies. Currently, these “dual eligible” individuals receive their drug benefit through state Medicaid programs, which offer more liberal formularies than what will be expected of the new Medicare drug plans.

In addition, most of these high-risk patients will be enrolled in stand-alone prescription drug plans (PDPs) at risk for drug costs only. Unlike health plans, which are at risk for the full spectrum of care, PDPs will have no financial incentive to use drugs to avoid costlier hospitalizations.

A new report sponsored by the American Society of Consultant Pharmacists (ASCP) describes a variety of health risks to seniors and disabled persons (particularly those in nursing homes) posed by drugs excluded under the Medicare drug benefit.

The author, Dr. Richard G. Stefanacci, executive director of the Health Policy Institute at the University of Sciences in Philadelphia, concludes:

While the magnitude of the change from the current Medicaid coverage of many medications for dually eligible residents is enormous, the real costs may not be realized for some time. These will come in the form of costly medication substitutions, potentially avoidable emergency room visits and admissions and, even worse, untimely deaths.