Insurers give seniors new options

Published 6:00 am Tuesday, November 22, 2005

With senior citizens now eligible to sign up for a new Medicareprescription drug benefit, insurance providers and others aremobilizing to inform potential customers about the new service.

Insurance companies are hosting seminars and other outreachactivities, while drug stores are publicizing the availability ofinformation about the new Medicare Part D.

“You need a lot of companies out there talking to seniors,” saidPennsylvania Life Insurance Branch Manager Jerry Walters during aseminar Friday at the State Room.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Walters’ company is one of 15 providers authorized to offerprescription drug plans in Mississippi. He and otherrepresentatives are in the process of holding seminars across thearea.

“It’s been mostly a lot of information on how the Medicareprogram works,” Walters said of questions raised at themeetings.

Humana has opened kiosks in the Brookhaven and McComb Wal-MartSupercenters.

Adam Price, Humana representative, estimated approximately 300people had stopped by since the two locations opened Tuesday. Hesaid how long the kiosks will be in the stores has not beendetermined.

The voluntary prescription drug plan, which will replaceMedicare-approved drug discount cards, begins in January. Anyoneeligible for Medicare Parts A or B may join.

Enrollment began last Tuesday, and coverage will take effectJan. 1 for those who enroll by Dec. 31. Enrollment after May 15,2006, will incur a 1 percent per month penalty on premiums.

Drug plans and premiums will vary by company.

All, though, will have a basis plan. It establishes a $250yearly deductible with the customer responsible for 25 percent ofdrug costs up to $2,250.

From that point up to $5,100, the customer will be responsiblefor 100 percent of drug costs. After $5,100, the drug plan willcover 95 percent and the customer the remaining 5 percent.

Other plans offer different services and options at variouscosts.

Walters and Price said considering what plan to pursue can beconfusing and trying. Price said seniors are taking advantage ofavailable information.

“There are a lot of people who have been well informed throughthe Internet, the pharmacists, the doctors or here,” Pricesaid.

In addition to general information about the plan, Walters saidseminar questions have focused on making sure a particular pharmacyis in a provider network.

“People are very concerned about that,” Walters said.

Price said he has fielded a number of questions about theformulary, which is the list of drugs covered by a plan. Inconsidering what plan to join, he encouraged senior citizens tokeep a list of the drugs so they can compare them to coverage.

“Coverage is the main point,” Price said.

Price said he expected a side effect of the prescription drugplan would be making seniors more aware of the drugs they take andmore aware of generic drugs, which are less expensive than namebrands. Also, he anticipated physicians would become more attentiveto the drugs they prescribe for patients so that they are in thebest interest of patients both physically and financially.

Brookhaven resident Carolyn Douglas attended Friday’s seminar inan effort to learn more about the drug benefit. She did not make achoice on plan coverage.

“I want all the information I can get,” Douglas said. “We’rereally going to wait and make a decision later.”

Walters said the federal government expects to spend $700billion over next 10 years on the prescription drug benefit. Hesaid forecasts anticipate the U.S. having 41 million seniors inthat time.

“They’re expecting that because of the baby boomer era,” Walterssaid.

In promoting the prescription drug benefit, President Bushhailed it as the “greatest advance in health care” for seniorcitizens and the disabled since Medicare’s inception 40 years ago.Some Democrats, though, have voiced concerns that the number ofplans make the program too confusing.

Through the plan, federal officials estimate the typicalbeneficiary will pay about half what would be paid without theplan. Vicki Moak, a fellow Pennsylvania Life representative,applauded the plan and its benefits.

“Senior citizens have needed this for a long time,” Moak said.”This will help them.”