Medicare Part D: Helping Seniors Live Healthier and Avoid the Emergency Room

We must protect a program that is reducing emergency department visits

A study from Padmaja Ayyagari, an assistant professor at the University of Iowa, and colleagues found Medicare Part D has reduced emergency department use among enrollees.

A study from Padmaja Ayyagari, an assistant professor at the University of Iowa, and colleagues found Medicare Part D has reduced emergency department use among enrollees.

Medicare Part D is helping keep seniors out of the emergency room, according to a recent study.

Emergency department visits for nonemergency reasons have dropped 18 percent for Medicare Part D beneficiaries since the program launched in 2006, according to research published in Health Economics. The authors attribute the decline to reduced prescription costs for seniors covered by the program, which has helped them stick to their treatments.

“Our study shows that prescription drug coverage can not only improve health but also potentially save costs by reducing expensive emergency department care,” said Padmaja Ayyagari, an assistant professor of health management and policy at the University of Iowa and lead author of the study. “We specifically looked at emergency department visits because of the high costs associated with this type of care and its increased use.”

Emergency room visits rose 47 percent between 1992 and 2012. That increase translates into major costs, since experts estimate that care in an emergency department setting costs two to five times more than it does the in primary care setting.

Many emergency room visits and hospitalizations have the potential to be avoided if care is managed well before the patient’s health condition becomes severe.

Better use of primary and preventative care could save the U.S. health care system $18 billion annually, according to one estimate. Medicare Part D is contributing by reducing emergency department spending for a large population of Americans, according to Ayyagari.

“Many emergency room visits and hospitalizations have the potential to be avoided if care is managed well before the patient’s health condition becomes severe,” Ayyagari said.

Medicare Part D: Improving Access, Keeping Patients Healthy

Other studies support the idea that Part D is improving seniors’ health. A report from North Carolina State University published earlier this year, for example, found that the program has cut in half the number of seniors who stop taking their medications due to cost.

By keeping seniors healthy, Medicare Part D is reducing spending in other health care categories and making the health care system more efficient. Most consider Part D a success by almost all measures, and so we need to maintain the structure of this program to continue to improve the health of our seniors.

Discover why 88 percent of seniors are satisfied with their prescription drug coverage under Medicare Part D and how we can make the program better for seniors by reading “Medicare Part D: 10 Years of Successfully Meeting Seniors’ Needs.”