Lawmakers worry drug benefit could hurt care of dual eligibles

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So-called dual eligibles – people covered by both Medicare and Medicaid – could experience disruptions in care when the Medicare prescription drug benefit takes effect next year, a news program reported.

State officials and healthcare advocates have raised concerns about how care for this group will transition when their medication coverage shifts from Medicaid to Medicare, according to National Public Radio's "Morning Edition" program.

A bill that was introduced earlier this month attempts to address this problem. The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), would delay by six months the Jan. 1, 2006, expiration date of the Medicaid prescription drug coverage for 6.4 million dual eligibles.

The Medicare law currently says dual eligibles who do not select a Medicare prescription drug coverage plan between Nov. 15, 2005, and Jan. 1, 2006, will become automatically enrolled in a plan. But a number of dual eligibles will not meet the deadline because many cannot read or understand information, the news program reported. About 70% of nursing home residents are considered dual eligibles.