Anxiety Over Medicare Benzo Ban

GENERIC medicare medicaid health doctor medicine
When the federal government's new prescription drug benefit kicks in next year, it will not cover a category of drugs commonly used to treat anxiety, insomnia and seizures.

That means those disabled and elderly people on Medicare who take Xanax, Valium, Ativan and other types of the drug benzodiazepine will have to look elsewhere for coverage or switch to a different, less addictive medication.

Finding other alternatives may not be easy for the 1.7 million low-income, elderly people who take the drug and will be automatically enrolled in the new prescription drug plan. They will depend on the states to continue paying for their benzodiazepines — "benzos" for short — on Jan. 1, but with no guarantee.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services recently urged state Medicaid directors to provide coverage of the drugs for the 6.3 million people who are "duel eligible" for prescription aid under the Medicaid and Medicare programs.

If states agree, they will continue to get federal matching funds when they pay for benzos.

But concerns remain among medical professionals and advocates for the elderly about what would happen if some states opt to save money by excluding benzos from their Medicaid program for the poor.

"Stopping the therapy abruptly can lead to seizures and dangerous, life-threatening problems," said Thomas Clark, policy director for the American Society of Consultant Pharmacists.