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Why Medicare Part D Worked When Many Said It Wouldn't

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With the rollout of Obamacare and HealthCare.gov under fire, it has focused attention on a previous rollout that had early problems and doubts and is now recognized as a great success: the Medicare prescription drug benefit (or Part D). They are similar in that both represent large, new government programs that depend on the participation of Americans in need of high-quality care. But as we approach Part D's 10th anniversary in December, it's important to assess why the program has proven to be highly effective when many predicted failure shortly before Congress enacted it in 2003.

Part D's success can be measured in a number of ways, most importantly how seniors perceive it. From 2006 to 2013, satisfaction rates among beneficiaries increased from 78 percent to 90 percent, according to a recent Medicare Today survey. With Part D offering at least 28 plans in every region of the country, it makes sense that 95 percent of seniors called the program convenient. It's also easy for seniors to love because it saves them approximately $300 in projected out-of-pocket costs, an amount that can be closer to $2,000 for those with high drug requirements.

Fiscally speaking, Part D has exceeded expectations. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) found that total program costs are on track to be $348 billion - or 45 percent - less than initial 10-year projections. Average monthly premiums are expected to be $31 in 2014, which is less than half of the $64 originally predicted. This type of cost saving is something we can all support, especially at a time when we're in the throws of a highly contested U.S. debt limit discussion.

Part D also has an important preventive component. Evidence from the CBO suggests that adherence to prescription drugs leads to offsetting reductions in Medicare spending for other medical services provided in hospitals or nursing homes. Part D's ability to help seniors get the medicines they need will continue to help keep overall health care costs down.

As we approach the 10th anniversary of Part D, it seems an appropriate time to not just rest, but build on its laurels. If anything more should be done to the program, we should improve program awareness, options and resources. One thing we absolutely should not do is impose any additional costs on seniors, especially low-income seniors who rely on the security and affordability of Part D.

Ultimately, both HealthCare.gov and Medicare Part D provide Americans with the health care they need and did not have access to before. However, it's important to focus on results. Part D represents a rare example of a government program that does exactly what it's supposed to do - provide access to affordable care in a straightforward and efficient manner. It has more than proven itself.