Bill Vaughan, chief lobbyist at the consumer group Families U.S.A., says that the comparisons will help seniors save money, even though his group is skeptical about the discount card program as a whole. "Any kind of ability to shop more is helpful. It's got to help because it can't be much worse than it's been," he says.
Of course, individual seniors won't be the only ones comparing drug prices with the new program. Insurers, analysts, and politicians will also be watching closely, a fact that is bound to affect future debates on how -- or if -- the government should act to lower medication costs.
Several senators have already directed government investigators to monitor drug prices on the site and report back to Congress.
"It's the public spotlight on this and groups doing comparison shopping that I think will be awfully important," Vaughan says.
Medicare Tries to Get the Word Out
Medicare is relying largely on state health insurance outreach programs to tell seniors about the web site and about additional benefits available to low-income beneficiaries. The agency announced last week that it is sending $21 million to states to help with education efforts.
Officials all over the country have begun Medicare "town hall" meetings to help explain the program and other changes in the Medicare law to seniors.
"I think they're going to need some assistance using the site," Kansas insurance commissioner Sandy Praeger tells WebMD. "We're dealing with a group that first of all doesn't like change and it is having to deal with change," she says.