NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

No Crisis In Medications For Seniors

June 28, 1999

Despite the forthcoming Clinton administration push -- a new prescription-drug benefit for the elderly -- studies and statistics show neither that most seniors have a problem obtaining the drugs they need nor that they spend very much for medications.

  • Nearly 70 percent of all seniors have private-sector drug coverage, and a 1997 Department of Health and Human Services survey found that only 2 percent of people over 65 said they had difficulty obtaining prescription drugs.
  • Moreover, 72 percent of all seniors spend less than $500 a year on drugs and more than half spend $200 a year or less, according to the National Academy for Social Insurance.
  • Data from the Medicare Beneficiary Survey show that the overwhelming majority of seniors spend less than 2 percent of their total income on medications.
  • The MacArthur Foundation reports that nearly 90 percent of seniors between 65 and 74 say they have no disabilities, while 73 percent of those between 75 and 84 report no disabilities.

All of which raises the question whether the overwhelming majority of seniors, healthy as they are, will sit still for higher Medicare premiums on the order of $20 per month or more to have the government subsidize their drug costs -- especially when they don't need it. The average net worth for households in the 65-74 age group is $331,600, about twice what it is for younger people. The Clinton plan, analysts argue, is simply a tax plan in disguise.

Source: Robert M. Goldberg (Ethics and Public Policy Center), "The 'Gerontocracy' Won't Swallow Clinton's Drug Plan," Wall Street Journal, June 28, 1999.


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