Senior News By Marianne Mills
Senior citizens over 65 have until Dec. 31, 2005 to enroll in the Medicare Prescription Drug Program for coverage beginning Jan. 1. Also called Part D, the new program can pick up a large portion of the cost for prescription drugs which folks have generally had to pay out of their fixed incomes. The Medicare website states, "It will pay for about half your drug costs." Historically, Medicare, the national health insurance for older Americans, has not covered medication expenses; but in 2003, U.S. Congress decided to address the growing problem of prescription drug costs for Medicare beneficiaries through developing Part D.
Medicare is for Americans, age 65 and older, some persons with disabilities under 65 and those who require kidney dialysis or transplant. Medicare beneficiaries and their family members should attend to Medicare Part D enrollment this month. Even those persons whose prescriptions are paid for by other sources, such as SEARHC, Medicaid or private health insurance are advised to pay close attention to what the prescription drug program offers before Dec. 31.
People with private health insurance that covers prescription medications should have received a letter from their health insurance company, telling them whether their current plan is as good as or superior to Medicare Part D, or not. If one does not recall receiving such a letter from their private health insurance company, he/she should call the company to ask for a copy of the letter or to ask that a statement in writing be sent immediately. If the current private plan is as good as the Medicare prescription drug benefit, that person may not want to enroll in Part D.
In order to get the prescription drug benefit, one needs to choose a Medicare Prescription Drug Plan. For persons with a zip code of 99801, there are 27 plans to choose from. Each plan covers a different combination of prescription medications, serves specific pharmacies, and has a different cost for the deductible, premium and co-payment. Fortunately, there is help available for comparing the plans and considering which plan is best for each individual. One should begin by listing all the types of prescription medications he or she is likely to need in the coming months.
The easiest way to select a plan and enroll is through the Internet. Those who are not confident in using computers should ask a family member or friend to assist with enrollment. Using the Internet, go to www.medicare.gov, then to the Prescription Drug Plan Finder; click on "find a Medicare Prescription Drug Plan." The screens will walk one through the process, including entering one's zip code, medications and preferred pharmacies. The screen will compare the various plans to choose from, including the estimated annual cost, cost of deductible, premiums and co-pay amounts.
Once the Medicare beneficiary has decided which plan to choose, click on "enroll" and complete the process. For those who do not have computer access, family members or friends to assist, there are trained persons to help. Those eligible for SEARHC are encouraged to call Charlene Sykes at 364-4465. Help by appointment is also available from Diana Kreick at 723-2617, Sarah Bosma at 586-4920 or Julie DeLong at 463-6177. To select a prescription drug plan or enroll by phone, call 1-800-MEDICARE or 1-800-478-6065.
Marianne Mills is the Program Director of Southeast Senior Services which offers home and community-based services for older Alaskans throughout the region.