Leaders of a health insurance trade group are scoffing at predictions that confusion about the new Medicare drug benefit will hold down participation rates.[@@]

Karen Ignagni, president of America’s Health Insurance Plans, Washington, said here today at a Medicare drug benefits press conference that member plans are getting many calls, including many calls from knowledgeable consumers, at call centers set up to help seniors analyze and compare the new Medicare Part D prescription drug plans.

Call volume has “wildly exceeded expectations,” Ignagni said.

Consumer groups and press reports have painted portraits of senior citizens floundering in oceans of paperwork describing plan designs and lists of covered drugs.

But insurers “have a very, very different sense on the ground,” Ignagni said.

Awareness of the new drug benefits program has spread in recent weeks, and recent calls show “far more understanding about the choices out there,” Ignagni said.

Today, most of the seniors calling insurers with questions know that they must consider factors such as the drugs they take, the amount of premiums they are willing to pay, and their willingness to change pharmacies, Ignagni said.

Ignagni also argued that the program has turned out to be cheaper than critics had predicted.

Critics had predicted that the minimum monthly premium might be as high as $38.

In reality, coverage is available for less than $20 in 49 states and for less than $10 in many, Ignagni said.