New Kaiser Family Foundation Survey Shows Seniors Confused About Medicare Rx Drug Law

Embargoed for release until:
February 26, 2004, 12:00 pm EST

For further information contact:
Jennifer Morales or Sara Knoll, (202) 347-5270
Chris Peacock, (650) 854-9400


Nearly 7 In 10 Seniors Say They Do Not Know Drug Legislation
Was Passed and Signed Into Law

Washington, D.C. – A survey released today by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows seniors are confused about the outcome of the Medicare prescription drug debate and the prescription drug law. While about two-thirds of seniors report following the debate closely, just 15% say they understand the new prescription drug law very well and almost seven in 10 don’t know that it passed and was signed into law.

The January/February Kaiser Health Poll Report survey shows just how big a challenge it will be to educate seniors about the new Medicare prescription drug law, signed by the President on Dec. 8, 2003, as the focus shifts from debate in Congress to implementation.

The survey found that as of Feb. 8, 64% of seniors (49% of the public) said they followed the Medicare prescription drug debate “very closely” or “somewhat closely.” However, most seniors say they don’t understand the new law. Only 15% of seniors (7% of the public overall) say they understand the law “very well”; 24% of seniors (26% of the public) say they understand it “somewhat well”; and 60% of seniors (64% of the public) say they understand it “not too well” or “not well at all.”

One poll finding was particularly striking: 68% of seniors don’t know the law was passed by the Congress and signed by the President; 27% think the law did not pass, and 41% say they did not know whether or not it was passed. Some 32% of seniors correctly say the law was passed and signed. Awareness is even lower for the general public (23% say it was passed and signed).

“The lack of understanding of the prescription drug law makes it ripe for political demagoguery on both sides as we enter the election season. 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?” said Drew E. Altman, Ph.D., Kaiser’s President and CEO.

“The complex nature of the law, with all its nooks and crannies and winners and losers, makes the public education challenge much harder. It will take customized one-on-one assistance to really give beneficiaries meaningful help,” Altman added.

The drug benefit will not take effect until 2006 and clearly confusion exists, but currently a majority of seniors have an unfavorable impression of the law. Based on their personal knowledge about the law, 55% of seniors (38% of the public) say their impression is unfavorable, compared with 17% of seniors (25% of the public) who say it is favorable. Some 28% of seniors (37% of the public) say they don’t have any impression of the new law.

Among seniors, those who know the law has passed are more likely to say they understand it “very” or “somewhat” well (58%) compared to those seniors who did not know the law has passed (31%). Seniors who knew the law was passed are also considerably more likely to say that they have an unfavorable impression of the law (73%) compared to those seniors who didn’t know about passage (46% say unfavorable). The survey found that seniors who knew the law passed appear more politically engaged than seniors as a whole; they were more likely to report being registered to vote and voting in past elections.

“Implementation of the drug benefit is still two years away and success or failure is not preordained, but as of right now, there is obviously a huge need for seniors to have more information,” said Mollyann Brodie, Ph.D., Vice President and Director of Public Opinion and Media Research.

Findings from the survey are available on the Kaiser Family Foundation website at:


The Kaiser Family Foundation Health Poll Report Survey was designed and analyzed by researchers at the Kaiser Family Foundation. Fieldwork was conducted by telephone by Princeton Survey Research Associates International between February 5 and February 8, 2004, among a nationally representative random sample of 1,201 adults ages 18 and over, including 237 adults ages 65 and older.

The margin of sampling error for the survey is plus or minus 3 percentage points for total respondents; for respondents ages 65 and older it is plus or minus 6.7 percentage points. For results based on smaller subsets of respondents the margin of sampling error is higher. Note that sampling error is only one of many potential sources of error in this or any other public opinion poll.

The Kaiser Family Foundation is a non-profit, private operating foundation dedicated to providing information and analysis on health care issues to policymakers, the media, the health care community, and the general public. The Foundation is not associated with Kaiser Permanente or Kaiser Industries.

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The independent source for health policy research, polling, and news, KFF is a nonprofit organization based in San Francisco, California.