Medicare Part D may be helping more older Americans with heart failure get meds used to control the disease. A new study of nearly 7,000 older heart failure patients in a big insurance plan found the number of filled prescriptions for standard heart failure meds increased after Part D began in 2006, and the biggest increase was among seniors who previously lacked drug coverage.
The results, which were reported in the American Heart Journal, are the first to show Part D may help more people with heart failure get meds that are recommended to lower the risk of hospitalization and extend lives. The findings, Reuters writes, suggest concerns that drugmakers would be the largest beneficiaries from the program may be unfounded. You may recall that a 2007 report by IMS Health found Part D boosted sales of pricey brand-name cholesterol-lowering statins and ulcer drugs by 5 percent to 7 percent, for example (see here).
The study examined records for 6,950 people age 65 and older who were enrolled in a Pennsylvania Medicare managed care plan between 2003 and 2007. In the year before Part D began, 534 plan members had no coverage, and 4,600 had coverage with quarterly caps of $150 or $350. The remaining 1,800 had coverage through an employer or union, with no cap, the news service reports.
Among those who had lacked coverage, the average number of scrips filled each year rose from 13 to 19, and the percentage who filled at least one scrip for a beta-blocker increased from 45 percent in the two years prior to Part D, to 59 percent in 2006 and 2007. For a beta-blocker plus an ACE inhibitor or ARB, the percentage rose from 21 percent to 32 percent. Plan members who previously had drug coverage with quarterly caps showed smaller increases. The percentage filling a scrip a beta-blocker rose from between 55 and 58 percent to about 63 percent, Reuters continues.
"These findings," wrote Julie Donohue of the University of Pittsburgh Donohue and her colleagues, "are consistent with a major goal of the (Medicare Part D) policy, which was to reduce financial barriers to medication access among the elderly." However, Reuters notes coverage did not erase gaps in use between seniors who previously lacked coverage and those with good benefits through an employer or union. Before and after Part D began, about 45 percent of those such coverage filled scripts for both a beta-blocker and an ACE inhibitor or ARB, according to Reuters, which adds the rate rose among seniors who previously lacked coverage, but was only 32 percent after Part D went into effect.