updated 2/26/2004 12:02:42 PM ET 2004-02-26T17:02:42

Almost 70 percent of elderly Medicare recipients don’t know the program’s new prescription drug benefit has been signed into law, according to a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

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A majority of those surveyed have an unfavorable impression of the drug benefit, which the President signed into law in December. About 55 percent said their impression is unfavorable, compared with 17 percent who held a favorable impression. The remainder had a neutral impression or no impression at all.

Among those who knew the Medicare drug benefit had become law, an even greater percentage — 73 percent — had an unfavorable impression. Only a minority of those polled said they understand the benefit very well, leading researchers to conclude that many older Americans may be vulnerable to political grandstanding.

“The lack of understanding of the prescription drug law makes it ripe for political demagoguery on both sides as we enter the election season,” said foundation president Drew Altman. “The president will say he delivered a good prescription drug law, and the Democratic candidate will say it’s a bad law. How are seniors to judge?”

Cronkite highlights shortcomings
The Bush administration is spending more than $12 million on a television, radio, newspaper and Internet campaign in support of the law and an additional $10 million on a mailing to each of the nation’s 40 million older and disabled Americans.

Opponents recruited Walter Cronkite for a campaign that highlights what they see as the law’s shortcomings. Cronkite appears in and narrates an 11-minute video that Families USA — which worked closely with congressional Democrats who tried to defeat the bill — plans to send to 10,000 senior citizen centers and retirement communities to explain changes in Medicare.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, pointing to a recent Harris Interactive poll, said Wednesday that the more beneficiaries learn about the law, the more they like it.

Full Medicare prescription drug benefits don’t start until 2006. Until then, older Americans can expect to see the first savings though discount cards available for purchase from insurance companies and pharmacies as early as April 1.

When the full drug benefit starts, recipients would pay for the first $250 in drug costs and Medicare would pay for 75 percent of the next $2,000 in prescription drug bills. Between $2,250 and $5,100 in drug costs, the government would pay nothing. Over $5,100, the government would pay all but 5 percent of prescription costs.

The telephone poll of 237 elderly people was conducted Feb. 5 through Feb. 8 by Princeton Survey Research Associates International. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 6.7 percentage points.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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