HHS: 6 million dual eligibles receive drug coverage under new benefit

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The government automatically enrolled about 6.2 million dual eligibles in the Medicare prescription drug benefit, which began Sunday.

More than 21 million seniors and people with disabilities, in total, have drug coverage as of the start of the new benefit, the Department of Health and Human Services reported on Dec. 22. But only 1 million of the total are new sign-ups and did not previously have drug coverage. Dual eligible recipients were eligible for both Medicaid and Medicare prior to the start of the benefit. More than half of all nursing home residents are in this category.

As of Dec. 13, enrollment included: more than 1 million in stand-alone prescription drug plans; 6.2 million dual eligibles; 4.4 million in Medicare Advantage plans; 5.9 million retirees in the Medicare retiree subsidy; 1 million retirees that supplement Medicare coverage and 500,000 continuing in coverage as good as Medicare's; and 3.1 million federal retirees.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, which expects another 500,000 enrollments by the end of January, said the benefit is "off to a strong start." It needs another 7 to 9 million more enrollments this year to meet its goal of enrolling 28 to 30 million within the benefit's first year.

Nine groups, including the American Society of Consultant Pharmacists, recently filed a lawsuit against CMS, accusing the agency of not doing enough to protect dual eligibles from losing their coverage on Jan. 1.