America’s Health Insurance Plans says the new Medicare Part D prescription drug program is working well for most participating seniors.

AHIP, Washington, today held a briefing to release Part D program survey data collected by Ayres, McHenry and Associates Inc., Alexandria, Va.

The Part D program now covers 2 types of Medicare beneficiaries: Beneficiaries who signed up for Part D coverage on their own, and Medicare beneficiaries who also qualify for Medicaid. The government shifted the so-called “dual eligibles” into the Part D program automatically.

The Ayres, McHenry survey found that 95% of self-enrollees say they had no problems signing up for the program or had their problems resolved within the first 10 weeks, and that 85% of self-enrollees say they have experienced no problems with the program since they signed up. Another 2% of self-enrollees say they have had a problem that has been resolved.

About 90% of automatic enrollees polled say they have used the Part D program without facing any problems, and another 4% say they have had a problem that has been resolved.

Whit Ayres, president of Ayres, McHenry, compared media coverage of the Part D program to media coverage for air travel, which tends to focus on crashes.

“The difference is that most Americans understand that most planes land safely,” Ayres said. “[Part D] is a new benefit, and most Americans do not know that most seniors are not having any problems.”

Karen Ignagni, president of AHIP, said the results of the survey could affect enrollment decisions as well as the tenor of discussions about the Medicare Part program in Congress.

Ignagni noted that 32% of automatic enrollees and 41% of Part D participants who self-enrolled believe criticism of the program makes other seniors less likely to sign up.

Some lawmakers have proposed trying to ease Medicare Part administrative problems by reducing the number of plans available to seniors.

Although the prescription drug benefit is new, seniors who are happy with their plans may object if lawmakers cut those plans, Ignagni said.

AHIP member plans want to work with pharmacists and regulators to resolve any lingering problems, but, in general, they believe that a free market is the best medicine for whatever ails the Part D program, Ignagni said.

So far, “the competition in the market has definitely been working for seniors,” Ignagni said.

Lawmakers had expected premiums to average $38 per month, but the actual average is just $25, Ignagni noted.