Medicare beneficiaries without prescription drug coverage have considerable difficulty filling prescriptions due to costs. The Kaiser Family Foundation found that 26% of seniors reported medication non-adherence due to cost, including 35% of those with three or more chronic conditions . Medicare beneficiaries without drug coverage filled one-third fewer prescriptions in 2002 than beneficiaries with some form of drug coverage – a difference that persisted across a range of individual characteristics, including health status and income .
On December 8, 2003, President George W. Bush signed the Medicare Prescription Drug Improvement and Modernization Act of 2003 (the "MMA") into law, which added a prescription drug benefit to the Medicare program. The Medicare Prescription Drug Discount Card and Transitional Assistance Program were intended as temporary measures to provide immediate assistance in lowering prescription drug costs for persons in need. The law made Medicare-approved Prescription Drug Discount Cards available to Medicare beneficiaries as of May 2004, in place until Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage began on January 1, 2006 .
The net federal cost of Medicare Part D is estimated to be $37 billion in 2006, increasing to $67 billion in 2010, and totaling $724 billion for the decade of 2006–2015 . Early reports suggested that the education of the public lagged prior to implementation of Medicare Part D. A survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation August 4th through 8th, 2005, including 300 adults age 65 years or older, found that only 33% of seniors felt that they had enough information at that time about the new Medicare prescription drug benefit to understand how it would affect them personally, and only 22% of seniors responded that they would enroll in a Medicare drug plan when available. Of those who said that they would not enroll or were not yet informed enough to make a decision, 26% felt that the system was too complicated. Only about 7% had called the Medicare hotline and 6% stated that a friend or family member had called the Medicare hotline or visited the Medicare website on their behalf . A USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll of 275 adults age 65 years or older taken at the end of September 2005 reported that 37% of seniors stated that they understood the program at least somewhat well, while 61% did not. Only 24% of seniors surveyed stated that they planned to join Medicare Part D, compared with 54% who did not plan to sign on .
Persons with end-stage renal disease (ESRD) are among those for whom per capita Medicare spending is highest – $64,614 on average in 2003  – and are disproportionately poor. Moreover, ESRD patients typically use multiple oral medications, including drugs for diabetes mellitus, heart failure, hypertension, hyperphosphatemia and other associated conditions. Patients with ESRD are Medicare-eligible before the age of 65 years, and as a function of hemodialysis, are regularly in contact with physicians, nurses, dietitians and social workers. Thus, hemodialysis patients in particular should be informed of this program and utilize it where appropriate.
Much can be learned about the potential long-term utilization of Medicare Part D in the hemodialysis population from examining the level of understanding and use of the temporary Medicare Prescription Drug Discount Cards. More than 7 million Medicare beneficiaries were eligible for these cards, which were initially projected to offer discounts of 10–25% . A drug report from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released October 12, 2004, reported that beneficiaries could obtain discounted prices 12–21% less than national average prices paid by all Americans for commonly used brand name drugs at retail pharmacies, with even larger discounts (28–75%) on generic drugs . Despite multiple projections of potential cost savings, no studies to date have determined the actual benefit of the temporary Medicare Prescription Drug Discount Cards accrued to individuals. Information from such an inquiry would be valuable to the ESRD patient and provider communities, as well as more generally to the Medicare population.
To explore knowledge and utilization of Medicare Prescription Drug Discount Cards, we surveyed a sample of hemodialysis patients from two urban University-affiliated dialysis centers and a sample of dialysis care providers. We hypothesized that the levels of understanding and use of these cards would be relatively low, despite a significant need.