WASHINGTON (AP) _ About 1.9 million elderly and disabled Americans enrolled in the new Medicare drug benefit over the past month, bringing the total of those who have voluntarily enrolled to 7.2 million.
An additional 20 million have been automatically enrolled because of their participation in other government programs, such as Medicaid, or because they have drug coverage through their former employer. Those employers are getting a tax subsidy to continue providing coverage.
``Strong and steady enrollment has continued this month,'' Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt said in a statement Thursday.
The federal government was expected to release enrollment numbers at least once more before a May 15 enrollment deadline arrives. People enrolling after that point will likely have to pay higher premiums when they do sign up. The penalty is 1 percent of the average premium for every month of delay.
The latest enrollment figures were released as new polling showed that senior citizens have decidedly mixed views about the program.
About 44 percent of the elderly approve of the new benefit. About 41 percent disapprove and 15 percent are undecided, according to The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. The margin of error was plus or minus 3 percentage points.