Jewish elderly may pay more for drugs
under new Medicare law.
MATTHEW E. BERGER
Some Jewish policy analysts fear that
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
the prescription drug provisions in
private insurance programs will be
he law that was supposed to dropped or downgraded for retirees
ease the burden of prescrip-
because of the availability of the
tion drug costs for the eld-
optional Medicare program.
erly may force some Jewish
While the new law contains subsi-
seniors to pay more than they do now. dies to encourage employers to keep
prescription drug benefits for retirees,
The Medicare reform legislation,
it's unclear how good drug benefits
signed by President Bush last week,
grants some relief in prescription drug must be for businesses to receive the
subsidy — and analysts say some
costs for seniors. But other provisions
employers may downgrade their pro-
of the law may affect adversely more
affluent seniors, including Jews.
grams to the minimum required.
Another possibility is that Jewish
Jewish groups still are learning what
the law will mean for Jewish seniors
seniors who currently have low drug
costs will pay more to opt into the
and already are looking at ways to
program when it begins in 2006 or
amend it. Several Jewish groups
when they turn 65, to avoid penalties
opposed the legislation, claiming it
did not go far enough to aid seniors.
for joining later.
They are looking to join coalitions of
B'nai B'rith International opposed
other advocacy groups to seek a new
the legislation, along with several
Medicare reform bill, or amendments
other Jewish groups. Rachel
Goldberg, B'nai B'rith's assistant
to the current one, before most of the
provisions go into effect in 2006.
director for senior services and advo-
Other organizations, including rep-
cacy, said the main concern was a gap
in prescription drug coverage for sen-
resentatives of Jewish nursing homes,
say the law will grant Jewish seniors
While the law offers discounts for
some relief and is a step in the right
those who spend less than $2,250 a
The Medicare issue is an important
year on drugs, the next discounts do
not start until after one pays $5,100 a
one for Jews, since they are older on
year. "People are going to be really
average than the general American
population. According to the National surprised when they look at it,"
Jewish Population Survey 2000-01, 19 Goldberg said.
The demographics of the Jewish
percent of the U.S. Jewish population
community mean Jews may be among
is over age 65, compared to 12 per-
the first to see how the new provisions
cent of the U.S. population as a
affect spending on senior services.
Because Jewish seniors tend to be
Not only is the Jewish community
older, but Jewish families also have
more affluent than seniors in the gen-
eral population, they may be adversely fewer children than the U.S. average,
affected by the new Medicare laws.
meaning that there are fewer sources
For example, Jewish seniors currently
of income to offset growing costs in a
are more likely to be using private
insurance, known as Medigap, to sup-
"What's going to happen nation-
plement what Medicare covers,
wide, we're a microcosm of that,"
including prescription drugs. But the
Goldberg said. "It's going to happen
new law prohibits Medigap policies
to us first." That includes assisting
from covering prescription drug costs,
so seniors who rely on that service
While Jewish elderly generally have
more money than elderly in the gen-
may soon have to pay more out of
eral population, 9 percent of Jews
The same is true for seniors who are over age 65 live at or below the pover-
ty level, and 18 percent live in house-
on prescription drug programs
holds that earn $15,000 or less a year,
through their employers or pensions.
according to the population survey.
Rx on page 26
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