As of Jan. 1, more than 21 million seniors and people with disabilities will be covered by the Medicare prescription drug program.[@@]

The number includes more than 1 million Americans who signed up for the new stand-alone coverage in the first 28 days it was offered. Another 500,000 are expected to be enrolled by the end of January, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

HHS says its goal is to enroll 28 to 30 million by the end of next year, the first year of the program.

The agency notes an especially strong response from employers and unions that are planning on keeping their retirees in their current health care coverage.

“We expected an initial spike in enrollment, but the participation in Medicare’s new support for retiree coverage is even better than many predicted,” says Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Mark B. McClellan.

More than 11 million retirees are keeping the health care coverage they already have, McClennan reports.

Medicare beneficiaries will get their drug coverage in various ways, including from existing federal or military programs. The enrollment figures as of Dec. 13 are:

o Stand-alone prescription drug plans: more than 1 million;

o Medicare-Medicaid: 6.2 million (including 600,000 in Medicare Advantage plans);

o Medicare Advantage: 4.4 million (plus 600,000 Medicare/Medicaid beneficiaries).

o Retiree coverage: About 5.9 million retirees are enrolled in the Medicare retiree subsidy, with another 600,000 in process. Also, about 1 million retirees are in employer coverage that includes or supplements Medicare coverage. Another estimated 500,000 retirees are continuing in coverage that equal Medicare’s.

o Federal retirees: 3.1 million. This includes retirees receiving coverage from the Federal Employees Health Benefits and TRICARE (military health care) programs.