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DRUG COSTS FOR THE ELDERLY: SENATE SPECIAL COMMITTEE ON AGING HEARING

Executive Summary

DRUG COSTS FOR THE ELDERLY: SENATE SPECIAL COMMITTEE ON AGING HEARING July 20 is timed to add momentum to development in the Senate of a plan for prescription drug cost reimbursement under Medicare. According to a press release from Sen. Melcher's (D-Mont.) committee, the hearing will focus on "how rising costs of prescription drugs affect the elderly" and "the feasibility of including outpatient prescription drug costs in the Medicare program." Witnesses will include representatives from the Health Care Financing Administration, PMA, the American Medical Association and the American Association for Retired Persons (AARP). Also scheduled to appear is Helene Levens Lipton, PhD, from the University of California (San Fransisco) School of Medicine's Institute for Health Policy Studies, co-author of Drugs & the Elderly: Clinical, Social and Policy Perspectives. The hearing provides a forum for further discussion of recently raised issues relating to Medicare drug coverage. One area that may be explored relates to the connection between rising costs of drugs and noncompliance by elderly patients to prescribed drug therapy. AARP presented survey data at a recent House hearing which determined that drug prices were the second most often cited reason by the elderly for not filling a prescription. The data were presented at Rep. Waxman's (D-Calif.) April 21 hearing on drug price increases. Although the special committee does not have the power to introduce legislation, several of its members serve on the Senate Finance Committee, which is developing a plan to provide drug coverage. Sens. Heinz (R-Pa.), Chaffee (R-R.I.), Durenberger (R-Minn.), Bradley (D-N.J.), and Pryor (D-Ark.) serve on both committees. Sen. Heinz, a key contributor to the development of a Finance Committee's amendment to Sen. Bentsen's (D-Texas) catastrophic care bill, noted the relationship between cost and non-compliance at a June 18 Senate Finance/Health Subcommittee hearing on the issue. In his opening statement, Heinz pointed out that, "Unnecessary hospitalizations, even deaths -- certainly unwarranted suffering and pain -- have been tied to the failure to take prescribed drugs. It's a simple equation of need: subtract essential living costs from a limited, fixed income and nothing remains for medications."
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