There is help with drug costs for seniors

Posted: Wednesday, July 21, 2004

In June 2004, a transitional Medicare drug discount program began throughout the United States. Medicare beneficiaries now have access to Medicare-endorsed drug discount cards, estimated to cut down prescription expenses by as much as 10 to 25 percent. Alaskans who are receiving Medicare are advised to find out which card is right for them by calling Essien Ukoidemabia or Beverly McGuire, Alaska's experts on Medicare issues, at 1-800-478-6065.

Seniors can choose one out of more than 70 Medicare-approved drug discount cards. It is important to choose the right one because once you have applied for a card you will be locked into that card until the new enrollment period, which allows you the option of choosing a different card between Nov. 15 and Dec. 31 of 2004. Savings from the Medicare cards vary, depending on your particular medications, the discount negotiated between the card sponsor and the drug company, the pharmacy, and your location.

In addition to the card, the program offers $600 credit to help pay for your prescription drugs, if your income is no more than $15,701 per year (for single persons) or if your income plus your spouse's income is no more than $21,074 (for married couples). If your income does not qualify you for the $600 credit, you can still purchase a drug discount card for up to $30 for the initial enrollment, depending on the drug discount card sponsor you choose.

Applications for the transitional Medicare drug discount card program are available at your local senior centers. Many seniors are intimidated by the maze of discount cards available, or are confused by the complexity of the Medicare drug discount card benefit. Fortunately, the federal government provides special funds for each state to have experienced counselors to handle all the questions people might have about Medicare. The counselors for Alaska are Ukoidemabia, our State Health Insurance Program (SHIP) director, and McGuire, our Medicare coordinator. As the SHIP director and Medicare coordinator, they have received extensive training in the new Medicare drug discount card benefit and are the most reliable sources of information on any Medicare issue. Once seniors have consulted with Ukoidemabia and McGuire and have completed their applications, the forms should be sent in to the Medicare-approved drug discount card sponsor selected, not to the state or federal government.

In addition to the transitional Medicare drug discount card program, Alaska is one of 20 states which offers additional financial assistance to help pay prescription drug bills for low-income elders. It is called the SeniorCare Program and one can apply by calling 465-5734. Alaskans who are age 65 or older, with low incomes, now have the option of selecting a SeniorCare prescription drug card of $1,600 per year or continuing the $120 per month cash benefit which began when the Longevity Bonus Program ended. A senior with an income less than $15,701 annually ($21,074 per couple) would qualify.

Alaska seniors with annual incomes a bit higher (less than $17,445 per year for an individual or $23,415 for a couple) will qualify for a SeniorCare prescription drug card of $1,000 per year. Persons covered by Medicaid are not eligible for the Medicare drug discount card or the SeniorCare prescription drug card, but can still qualify for the $120 cash benefit.

• Marianne Mills is the Program director for Southeast Senior Services, a program of Catholic Community Services (CCS). CCS assists all persons regardless of their faith.



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