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Medicare Pilot Project for Seniors' Drugs

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WASHINGTON, Jun 25, 2004 (United Press International via COMTEX) -- Medicare will give a limited group of U.S. seniors who take medications for cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and other diseases prescription-drug coverage.

Under a provision of the new drug-benefit law, 50,000 Medicare participants soon will be able to receive oral treatments for cancer and injections for multiple sclerosis paid for by Medicare, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday.

Patient groups and drug makers lobbied hard for a piece of the $500 million demonstration project, which will last only until the drug benefit starts for all Medicare beneficiaries in 2006. Many of the 25 drugs included in the program cost tens of thousands of dollars a year.

Currently the Medicare program covers prescription drugs when they are administered in a physician's office, not when patients can take them on their own. Medicare officials estimate some 500,000 Medicare beneficiaries fit the criteria for the demonstration project.

Patients will be picked randomly by Medicare's contractor, which will sort applications into cancer and non-cancer categories to make sure 40 percent of the funds are spent on cancer drugs.

Applications will be accepted beginning July 6, with coverage beginning, at least for some, by Sept. 1.

Copyright 2004 by United Press International.

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