Medicare Part D has been deemed a confusing, complicated prescription drug program, causing some seniors to clutch their pocketbooks a bit tighter.
At a recent meeting to help seniors decipher the newest prescription drug plan offered by Medicare, Rep. Jim Oberstar, D-Minn., made it known he did not vote for the program when the bill hit the House floor.
"This program has such complexity. It's very confusing and difficult to understand," Oberstar said.
That's the reason he's taking the time to host informational meetings in cities around his northeastern Minnesota district. Oberstar said his office is swamped with e-mails and phone calls from people confused, trying to understand the program.
"People want to understand and make an informed decision," Oberstar said.
Medicare Part D offers 63 different prescription drug plans, and in Minnesota 18 companies will offer plans. Each plan covers different medications, making it imperative that people choose the plan that best fits their prescription drug needs.
"This is a decision that you as a consumer need to make based on your situation," said Sharon Notch, senior outreach specialist for the Senior LinkAge Line.
Notch said using the Medicare Web site, www.medicare.gov, is the easiest way to compare prescription drug plans, but most people on Medicare don't have computer access. For the not-so-Internet-savvy person, individualized help can be found elsewhere.
The Senior LinkAge Line and its outreach office sites, including the Lakes Area Senior Activity Center in Brainerd and Lakewood Clinic in Staples, can inform and assist Minnesota seniors with their Medicare questions.
Here's where some people get confused. Under a typical plan, the annual deductible for Medicare Part D is $250. If drug costs are between $250 and $2,250, Medicare will pay 75 percent, leaving the beneficiary to pay 25 percent, up to $500. And now comes the gap. If drug costs are between $2,250 and $5,100, Medicare pays nothing, but if drug costs are more than $5,100, Medicare pays 95 percent.
Notch said even though about 60 percent of her clients fall in "the doughnut hole," most still end up saving money on their prescription drugs.
"Legislation had to come up with a formula," Notch said. "They never intended on coming up with 100 percent drug coverage."
The deadline for enrolling in Medicare Part D is May 15. For those who have already signed up, the coverage starts Jan. 1. Anyone signed up after May 15 will be charged a 1 percent penalty for every month after May 15 that the benefit was not used.
After May 15, changes to the plan can only be made once a year, between Nov. 15 and Dec. 31, with coverage starting Jan. 1 of the following year.
Where to go for help
Senior LinkAge Line: (800) 333-2433
Medicare: (800) MEDICARE
Local advocacy groups
The stiff deadlines and warnings of penalties make many seniors nervous. About 50 people attended the meeting Monday at Franklin Arts Center in Brainerd and some raised concerns about not knowing which medications will be in their future.
Gwen Besnett, rural Pine River, a cancer survivor, currently spends about $100 per month on prescription medications. Besnett said choosing a plan is difficult because her health status could change at any time.
"I don't know which drug I'm going to need next year," she said.
Besnett and her husband, Tom, have been to several local meetings on Medicare Part D, gathering facts before they decide which plan best suits Gwen.
Tom considers himself lucky his prescription drugs are covered by his veteran's insurance.
"There's no way of knowing who or when, you can't plan for (a health crisis)," he said.
HEIDI LAKE can be reached at 855-5879 or email@example.com.
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