A federal watchdog agency says it is having a hard time coming up with detailed estimates of how much older Americans benefited from a Medicare prescription drug discount program that started in June 2004.

The statute that created the new Medicare Part D prescription drug program required the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to set up the discount card program in an effort to provide Medicare beneficiaries with some relief from high drug costs while the Part D program was being established.

Prices submitted to the CMS for a price comparison Web site suggest that the discount cards probably helped the 3.8 million card holders cut 12% to 25% off the national average retail prices offered to customers who paid cash, Kathleen King, a Government Accountability Office director, estimates in a letter sent to Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., the most senior Democrat on the House Government Reform Committee.

Some drug discount card holders may have saved more if they took advantage of card program services that steered holders toward generic drugs, King writes.

But, “as of November 2005, the overall quality of the quarterly price concession data submitted to CMS by drug card sponsors was poor,” King writes. “This precluded CMS from compiling a detailed accounting of the amount and source of discounts and other price concessions for the drug card program.”

Some card program organizers said CMS did a poor job of telling them how they should go about reporting price concession data, King writes.

A copy of the GAO report is on the Web at Document Link