Pat Roth feels like she is "being ramrodded" toward the new Medicare prescription drug plan.
"It just doesn't seem economically feasible," the 76-year-old Lawrence resident said Monday night as she waited for the start of a forum about the high cost and economics of prescription drugs. "I don't know in five years what my needs will be."
To obtain the program's benefits, a person must enroll by May 15, 2006, but waiting to enroll may lead to a higher premium, which also concerns Roth.
Roth was among more than 30 people who attended the forum held at the Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vt. A panel of representatives in the prescription drug field took part, including Pat Parker, director of pharmacy and IV therapy at Lawrence Memorial Hospital; Karen Braman, deputy director, Division of Health Policy and Finance, Kansas Department of Administration; and Neal Masia, director of economic policy, Pfizer Inc.
Roth wasn't alone in her concerns about the Medicare plan, sometimes referred to as Medicare Part D. When the audience was asked by Parker how many knew about the plan, several raised their hands. When asked how many understood it, all hands went down. Parker himself said he wondered why it had to be so complex.
"It's not been managed well; it's not been put together well," he said.
Masia, however, liked the plan but admitted that it wasn't simple to sign up for it.
"Once you understand what it is and how it works, it really is a benefit," he said.
Parker noted that drug expenditures at LMH have been going up more than 20 percent annually. In 2004, the hospital spent $6 million on drugs, he said. The hospital has about 2,300 drugs in its formulary but it is a set of 20 drugs - all recently developed - that are the most expensive, he said.
And while Parker agrees drug costs are high, new drugs can lower the cost of medical therapies.
Braman and Parker agreed regulatory reform was needed.
"It is going to take a significant change at the federal level and there are many who don't want to do that," Braman said.
Braman also stressed the need for better availability of information on new drugs, their true cost and how they compare to drugs already in existence. The effectiveness of most new drugs are tested against placebos, she said.
Braman said the state is working with local pharmacies across the state on a program for uninsured Kansans who have no prescription coverage.
Pfizer has several programs available to help people who need the company's drugs but can't afford them, Masia said. He said advertising for such programs has increased.
One of the most important things people should do is to get to know their pharmacist, Braman and Parker said. That lessens the chance of an adverse drug experience which could lead to more health problems and hospitalization, they said. Some prescription users don't understand how to take their medicine, Parker said.
"The most expensive drug you can take is the one that doesn't do any good or causes an adverse drug event," Parker said.
Monday's forum was the first of three community forums at the library on health issues. The next one is 6 p.m. Oct. 17 on "The Fraying Safety Net: Medical Treatment for the Uninsured and the Underinsured."