Medicare elimination of essential drugs will affect elderly

October 14, 2005

On Jan. 1, 2006, several categories of medications will be explicitly excluded from Medicare's new prescription drug benefit, including benzodiazepines, which are listed as an "essential medication" with the World Health Organization. Stephen Soumerai, professor of ambulatory care and prevention in the Department of Ambulatory Care and Prevention (of Harvard Medical School and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care) published a paper that details the impact this removal will have on society.

Currently, 24 percent of the elderly on Medicare, or 1.7 million people, will lose this coverage completely. The paper reports that negative effects are likely to take place, including withdrawal reactions, seizures, emergency department visits, and hospital admissions because the Medicare patients will not be able to afford these sometimes essential drugs.

Benzodiazepines are widely prescribed and generally safe and inexpensive treatments for anxiety, panic disorder, insomnia, and neurologic and rheumatologic disorders (such as muscle spasms and epileptic seizures).
-end-


Harvard Medical School

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