AMARILLO The good news is: The Medicare prescription discount drug plan will start helping recipients on June 1.
The bad news is: Figuring out which coverage plan to choose and how sign up for this new program can be confusing.
“The Medicare cards were just introduced the first part of May,” said Andrew Crocker, Texas Cooperative Extension gerontology health specialist in Amarillo. “Most plans won’t start until June 1.”
The best way to find out which plans start when is to visit the official Web site at http://www.medicare.gov/, Crocker said.
“It’s not just one card.”
The single-card official Medicare prescription drug plan Medicare Part D will begin Jan. 1, 2006, he said. In the meantime, participants have several discount drug cards to choose from. These cards are from private companies that have contracts with Medicare to provide coverage to participants. Applications for these cards are made directly to the companies that are offering them, not to Medicare.
The medications covered on these cards and their costs will depend on which pharmacies are covering which drugs, he added. That’s why researching possibilities on the Web site is so important.
“Before signing up you should research on the Web because that’s the only way you’ll be able to tell if your drugs are covered on the card,” Crocker said. “And the card (chosen) may or may not be able to cover all your drugs.”
The choice becomes more complicated because participants can only sign up for one card at a time, he said.
“Find the card that covers your most expensive prescriptions and sign up for that one.”
Each prescription drug card will carry an annual fee of up to $30. If a participant chooses to switch to another card which can only be done once a year another fee for the new card will be charged, which could be as much as $30.
Single people with annual incomes of $12,569 or less and married couples with annual incomes of no more than $16,862 may qualify for a $600 stipend, Crocker said. “It’s like a debit card. You have $600 to apply toward prescriptions. In December, any money left on the card will roll over into (benefits for) 2005. And next year you’ll get another $600.”
Persons who qualify for these stipends “will have their annual enrollment fees waived,” he added.
Scams concerning the cards have already been reported, Crocker said. “Eager entrepreneurs’ began calling people in January or February, even before anyone knew much about the cards, and were saying they would be offering drug cards. They were signing people up. Probably the cards never existed or wouldn’t do anything if they did.”
And that’s why participants need to make sure any prescription drug cards carry the Medicare-approved seal.
One other piece of advice from Crocker: Be an informed consumer. Work with your doctor to learn about generic medications and alternative treatments that can help cut the cost of medications.
For more information about the new Medicare prescription drug plan, visit the official Web site at http://www.medicare.gov/ and click on the link to “Find available Medicare-approved discount cards and compare prices for your prescriptions.”
People who do not own personal computers may be able to go online at their local public libraries. For information about qualifications and enrollment call (800) 633-4227 or the local Area Agency on Aging at (800) 252-9240.