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PacifiCare Plans Zero-Premium Drug Coverage

June 11, 2005|From Bloomberg News

PacifiCare Health Systems Inc. has proposed five insurance plans, including one with no monthly premium, in a bid to provide drug coverage to Medicare patients nationwide next year, Chief Executive Howard G. Phanstiel said Friday.

Medicare, the U.S. health insurance program for 42 million elderly and disabled people, will begin paying for a broad array of prescription drugs in 2006 through plans administered by private insurers. PacifiCare, the biggest manager of Medicare health plans, submitted its proposal this week.

Congress estimated that senior citizens would pay an average monthly premium of $35 for drug coverage when it expanded the Medicare drug benefit in 2003.

The zero-premium plan may help PacifiCare attract patients as it competes with UnitedHealth Group Inc., Cigna Corp., Aetna Inc. and WellPoint Inc. for part of the $60 billion that Medicare will spend on prescription coverage in 2006.

PacifiCare, which is based in Cypress, has developed a network of 30,000 insurance brokers to help enroll patients in its plans, Phanstiel said.

The company will offer five types of drug plans in each of 34 U.S. regions under Medicare, with premiums ranging from zero to $45 a month, he said. The plan with the $45 monthly premium would cover more brand-name medicines than the zero-premium plan, Phanstiel said.

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