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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

Doug Badger
Doug Badger
Senior Health Policy Advisor
April 30, 2004

Doug Badger
Hi, I'm Doug Badger, and I'm looking forward to taking your questions.

Sandra, from Dallas, Texas writes:
My 73-year-old mother is on Medicare Part B with her supplemental medical insurance coverage. How can she get more prescription coverage?

Doug Badger
Thanks for your question, Sandra. Many families are asking this very same thing. While most Medicare beneficiaries now have prescription drug coverage – whether through a former employer, Medicaid, VA or some other source – millions don’t. Many of these seniors have too much income to get their drugs covered through Medicaid, but struggle to afford their medicines on a fixed income.

That is why President Bush was proud to sign the new Medicare legislation into law. After years of promises, the President and Congress worked together to deliver a new drug benefit to 40 million seniors and people with disabilities.

While the full benefit will not take effect until January 2006, your mother may well benefit from the new Medicare-approved prescription drug discount cards. People can start signing up for the program beginning Monday, May 3, and the discounts will take effect beginning on June 1. Card sponsors can charge up to $30 for a card, but several charge less and some are free.

Your mother can already start to shop for savings now by logging onto Or she can call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227). She will need to have the list of prescription medicines that she takes handy. In addition, she will be asked her zip code, how far she is willing to travel to a drug store to pick up her prescriptions, and information about the income.

The income questions are designed to determine whether she will be eligible for $600 in cash assistance for her medicines, in addition to discounts.

This is the best way to find out what savings your mother can get on her medicines beginning in June.

Travis, from Richmond, Virginia writes:
Lately i've noticed an abundance in Health Care and prescription drug costs. Is this Medicare Discount Card expected to make a significant difference in how much medicare recepiants will pay for prescription drugs and if so how much is it expected to change the average prices.

Doug Badger
How are you, Travis? Thanks for checking in.

You can check for yourself on what savings are available by logging on to On the site, you’ll find a great web-based tool that will tell you what your savings will be on the medicines you take and which cards offer you the best deal both at drug stores in your neighborhood and through the mail. You’ll also find out that some of the cards charge an enrollment fee of up to $30, although several charge less and some are free.

You’ll also notice that we haven’t yet gotten in pricing data from all of the cards that will be offering discounts to Medicare beneficiaries. But you will see that the savings can be significant. We expect that as more cards are added, the competition among sponsors will drive prices down even further.

By the way, Travis, HHS estimates that 187,000 Virginia seniors currently lack drug coverage and that 162,000 of them would qualify for the $600 subsidy that begins in another few weeks. So this will be a real help to folks in your State.

Ross, from Fort Wayne writes:
I don't like double-speak. With that in mind -- answer this one SIMPLE question. How much will people save with this card?

Doug Badger
I’ll get straight to the point, Ross.

HHS estimates that, over the next 18 months, seniors will get discounts through the new Medicare prescription drug discount card program that will save them from $3.8 billion to $5.1 billion annually. Plus, individuals with incomes of less than $12,569 and couples with incomes of less than $16,862, will get a $600 subsidy for the purchase of their prescription medicines. HHS estimates that these subsidies will total $8 billion.

So, that’s a combined total of $12 billion or $13 billion in savings and subsidies between this June and January 2006, when the Medicare prescription drug benefit will bring even greater savings.

In Indiana, there are about 237,000 Medicare beneficiaries who don’t currently have drug coverage, about 179,000 of whom will get both the new discounts and subsidies. So people in Indiana will be saving some real money during this transitional program that ends in January 2006.

So that’s how much people will save. How much will you save? Log on to to find out, or call 1-800-MEDICARE and talk with somebody who can tell you how much you can save on your medicines.

Arthur, from North Port, Florida writes:
What benefit will I get from this new Medicare Prescription plan?

Doug Badger
It depends on what drugs you’re now taking, whether you already have prescription drug coverage, and what your income is.

The best way to find out whether the new plan will help you is to log onto – well, you know the drill – or call 1-800-MEDICARE.

But here are some general rules. First, if you already have prescription drug coverage – from an employer or through Medicaid or VA, for example – you already have pretty good coverage and probably want to keep things just as they are. One of the principles that the President insisted on – and got! – from Congress in the new Medicare law is this: IF YOU LIKE WHAT YOU HAVE, YOU CAN KEEP IT.

You won’t be charged a premium or fee for something you don’t want or need, whether it’s the transitional Medicare prescription drug discount program that begins in a few weeks, or the permanent benefit that begins in 2006.

Second, your income is an important consideration. People with incomes less than $12,569 and couples with incomes of less than $16,862, will get a $600 subsidy for the purchase of their prescription medicines. (By the way, the husband and wife will EACH get $600.) This subsidy, which will be available on June 1. They will then get another $600 next January. And, beginning in 2006, they’ll be eligible for the new Medicare drug benefit that will save them even more.

Mario, from Seattle, WA writes:
Mr. Badger: I don't understand how this new Medicare law is suppose to help Seniors. First of all, it doesn't kick in until 2006. Second of all, please correct if I'm wrong, Seniors will have to spend $2000 of their own money before the discount kicks in.

If that is the case, how is this new Medicare Prescription Drug program helping Seniors,

Regards, Mario

Doug Badger
Thanks, Mario. Seattle is one of my favorite cities, by the way. You’re very blessed to live in the “other” Washington.

First, you need to bear in mind that the transitional Medicare benefit is beginning in just a few weeks. As I’ve told others who’ve submitted questions, we’ve got some discount information available on our website right now and more Medicare-approved prescription drug discount card sponsors will be posting their information over the next several weeks. THESE DISCOUNTS WILL APPLY TO EVERY PRESCRIPTION YOU HAVE FILLED. You won’t have to “spend $2000 of your own money before the discount kicks in.” Signup for this new benefit begins this Monday (May 3) and the discounts – and the low-income subsidies – begin on June 1.

Will these help seniors? HHS estimates that the combination of prescription drug discounts and the $600 subsidies will save seniors $12 to $13 billion on their medicines between June of this year and December 2005. There are an estimated 187,000 beneficiaries in Washington State that don’t have any drug coverage and will benefit from the discount. We estimate that 83,000 of them also will qualify for the transitional assistance.

In 2006, the new benefit will kick in. In exchange for a monthly premium of that will average around $35 or $36, a beneficiary who now lacks coverage will get a combination of prescription drug discounts and coverage that will reduce their spending on prescriptions by about half. Again, you won’t have to “spend $2000 of your own money before the discount kicks in.” The discount will apply to every one of your purchases.

People with low incomes will get an even greater benefit, with most paying no more than $2 or $5 per prescription. And people with high drug expenses – regardless of incomes – will get 95 percent of their discounted drug purchases covered by the new program once they’ve spent $3,600 on their medicines.

Susan, from Arkansas writes:
Why did the prescription drug bill for seniors fail to provide the government with bargaining power with the drug companies? Any other large provider of medical care has this option. It seems odd to me that the medicare system would not want to do the same.

Doug Badger
Thanks for your question, Susan.

The new Medicare law relies on the same kind of bargaining power to get discounts as is used in private employer plans and the Federal Employees health program, which provides prescription drug coverage to Members of Congress and other Federal employees. The Federal Government does not set prices in this program or for private employers, but the tens of millions of Americans get good prices and good coverage for their prescription medicines.

The new Medicare law uses this same idea of price competition to get the best deals for seniors. By the way, the Medicare bill that Senate Democrats introduced in 2002 also prohibited the Federal Government from bargaining directly with drug companies, relying instead on private pharmacy benefit managers to negotiate discounts for Medicare beneficiaries.

Brian, from Hampton, VA writes:
My dad is on Medicare. How could he benefit from the New Medicare Prescription Drug Discount Card? He is 61 and has his own small business

with income around 80Kyear. My mom is 60.

Doug Badger
Hi, Brian! Sounds like your dad and mom are working hard.

Most folks don’t qualify for Medicare until they turn 65 (unless they have a serious disability), but if your dad is now a Medicare beneficiary, he should log onto or call 1-800-MEDICARE and find out how much he can save on his prescriptions. This will help your dad compare cards and choose the one that’s right for him. He’ll find out how much he will pay for his drugs at pharmacies in his area as well as how much he could save if he bought his medicines through the mail.

We know that your dad wants to make an informed decision about what’s best for him, just as he does in choosing a doctor. Our new website will give him the information and the tools to make an informed decision.

By the way, while he should go on the website (or call the toll-free number) now, he might want to consider waiting a few weeks to select a card (signup starts this Monday). There are still lots of card sponsors who haven’t sent in their pricing data, and we think that by allowing people to see just how much they can save, the competition might just drive prices down even further!

sandra, from ok city writes:
How will you help people use the card? From many news reports, I understand that it is like learning another language. You can't just create a new program and expect people to get it automatically.

Doug Badger
Hi, Sandy! I'm not an Oklahoman,but I worked for many years for Senator Nickles. He's a great man and I enjoyed visiting his (and your) beautiful state a couple of times.

Shopping for the best deal can be confusing, but simple answers are just a phone call away (1-800-MEDICARE). Talk to one of our trained experts who will ask you your zip code, how far you're willing to travel to a pharmacy, whether you prefer to get your medicines through the mail and a couple of general questions about your income (to see whether you qualify for $600 in assistance ... in addition to great discounts).

They'll tell you which cards are best for you and will then mail you a personalized booklet with all your information.

Or ... since you've obviously entered the digital age ... log on to and plug in the information yourself.

Plus, we've trained folks with AARP, other citizens groups and people with your State government to counsel you about your choices.

Thomas, from Illinois writes:
Are seniors who are on the Illinois senior care prescription drug program, automatically enrolled in the the new medicare presciption drug program?

Doug Badger
Hi, Thomas. We've been talking to your State Government about doing this. They still haven't decided as of this afternoon.

Glenn, from Ohio Valley writes:
What's this about a door to door scam of people selling Medicare discount cards?

Doug Badger
Glenn, I'm glad you asked about that. We've gone out of our way to provide many sources of good reliable information about the new discount card -- the toll-free number, the website, television and print ads in English and Spanish, mailings from HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson and from the Social Security Administration, brochures, educational events in communities and senior centers. Plus, we've trained 12,000 counselors working in 1,200 local programs to provide in-depth assistance to Medicare beneficiaries.

We've also reviewed marketing materials submitted by card sponsors to make sure that they're accurate. WE DO NOT PERMIT MEDICARE PRESCRIPTION DRUG CARD SPONSORS TO SOLICIT BUSINESS DOOR-TO-DOOR! Do NOT do business with anyone who says that he or she is selling a "Medicare" card on a door-to-door basis. Instead, call 1-800-MEDICARE to report that individual to the authorities.

Doug Badger
Hey, thanks for your questions. Don't forget 1 800 MEDICARE or for answers to all your questions that I didn't get to.