Medicare Drug Benefit to Help Improve Health of Hispanic Elderly

Medicare Drug Benefit to Help Improve Health of Hispanic Elderly

National Hispanic Medical Association Embarks on Mission to Educate Patients as Doctors Meet in California


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Los Angeles, CA–(HISPANIC PR WIRE)–March 31, 2005–A sea change is coming for many elderly Americans, especially the growing Hispanic population, who for the first time will be eligible for prescription drug coverage and a physical exam under Medicare benefits.

To reach that underserved population, the National Hispanic Medical Association (NHMA) is urging its member doctors to help educate their patients and others who are eligible for Medicare so it will ease the burden on patients and their families, who can ill afford medical care, much less prescription drugs.

That message will be the focus of NHMA’s ninth annual conference, and its first in the West Coast – “Medical Practice for the 21st Century: Enhancing Quality Care and Health Literacy” – March 31 to April 3 at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles. More than 1,000 doctors are expected to attend as NHMA, a nonprofit organization that represents Hispanic doctors in the United States, embarks on a national dialogue on improving health care for all Americans.

The conference will include presentations on such regional and national issues as “Future Vision for Quality-Care Lessons From Los Angeles Leaders,” “The Medical Profession and Hispanic Health,” “Leadership for the World’s Health: The Futures Initiative,” “Medical Education: Cultural Competence & Innovative Medical Curriculum Strategies” and “Federal Leadership and the Hispanic Health Agenda.” There also will be a session on NHMA’s recommendations for a U.S.-Mexico binational health insurance program.

NHMA will present a leadership award to Dr. Mark McClellan, director of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Dr. Elena Rios, NHMA’s president, is urging the group’s Hispanic doctors to reach out to patients and their communities and tell them about the Medicare Prescription Drug Plan, which will take effect in January. Under the program, people 65 and older for the first time will get prescription medicines and a physical examination to help prevent chronic disease and illness.

“A major reason many Hispanic elderly suffer some of the worst effects of chronic illnesses is that they can’t afford medications. This Medicare program should help change that,” said Dr. Rios, a California native. “Too many people wait too long, sometimes until they’re on their deathbed, to go see a doctor because they can’t afford medical care. Medicare is changing that, allowing people to get help sooner – while we doctors can still do something to help them.”

The new drug coverage will be available to all 41 million Medicare beneficiaries – 7% of whom are Hispanic. A growing segment of this aging population is minorities, who constitute 20% of the U.S. population and will grow to 50% by 2050. By 2050, one of four Americans will be of Hispanic background. The Medicare program will nearly double through 2030, to about 79 million beneficiaries, as the baby boom population starts to become eligible in 2010.

“This program will not only help people get well and stay well but also will lift a significant financial burden from them and their families,” Dr. Rios said.

For example, although people with Medicare without drug coverage filled fewer prescriptions than those with drug coverage, they spent more out-of-pocket on such drugs. Black and Hispanic Medicare beneficiaries without drug coverage used 10% to 40% fewer medications on average than their white counterparts because they couldn’t afford to buy medications.

Medicare is particularly important to Hispanics because nearly 14 million of them – about 1 in 3 – don’t have health insurance. In addition, only about 12% of Hispanics have drug coverage from employer-based insurance.

In 2002, the elderly spent an average $3,757 – or 22% of their income – out-of-pocket for Medicare and health care – 17% of that was on prescription drugs. Out-of-pocket expenses for Medicare premiums and drug co-payments are projected to rise to 37% next year, with no sign of slowing down.

NHMA is partnering with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and working with Partnership for Prevention – a national nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to improving people’s health by preventing disease and injury – to improve Hispanic health and to educate Americans about Medicare changes.

“Many people with diabetes, high blood pressure and other chronic diseases face the daily concern of how to pay for their prescription drugs and not get a stroke or get worse,” said Dr. Rios, who serves on the board of Partnership for Prevention. “They are like walking time bombs. This new medicine program will allow more patients to live longer with affordable medicines.”

Other speakers at NHMA’s conference include Dr. Garth Graham, deputy assistant secretary and director of the Office of Minority Health for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS); Calise Munoz, J.D., Region IX director of HHS in San Francisco; Dr. Julie Gerberding, M.P.H., director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); and Dr. Robert K. Ross, CEO of The California Endowment. Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona also will be speaking via a video.

Established in 1994 in Washington, DC, NHMA represents licensed Hispanic physicians in the United States. Its mission is to improve health care for Hispanics and the underserved. NHMA is located on the Web at nhmamd.org.

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Medicare Drug Benefit to Help Improve Health of Hispanic Elderly