Legislators say seek help on Medicare plans

Published 6:00 am Tuesday, January 3, 2006

Area legislators are encouraging seniors and others to carefullyconsider a new Medicare Part D plan that went into effect Jan. 1,and to seek counseling if they are confused.

“Everyone is scrambling right now because they are afraidthey’ll be cut off or are confused about what plan is best forthem,” said District 39 Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith.

Medicare Part D offers 40 separate programs to choose from andis designed to reduce the personal costs of medications for thoseeligible. Choosing the best plan is dependent on what medicines aperson is taking, she said.

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“It’s going to be really good for a lot of people, but it’s notfor everyone,” Hyde-Smith said.

District 53 Rep. Bobby Moak agreed.

“I’m still concerned whether the (Poverty Level and Disabled)group will get all the coverage they need,” he said.

Medicare is offering a prescription drug plan for the firsttime. Income is not a requirement for eligibility.

“Anybody who has Medicare Part A or B can sign up for thisplan,” she said.

Registration for Medicare Part D opened in November, but peoplehave until May to join the program.

The standard benefit has a premium of about $32 a month, with a$250 deductible.

After that, senior citizens pay 25 percent of their drug costsuntil their expenses for the year reach $2,250. In some plans,after annual expenses reach $2,250, a coverage gap occurs.

The customer must then pay all drug costs until they hit $5,100for the year. Then the customer pays 5 percent of all additionalcharges.

Those who have limited assets, and an annual income of $14,355for individuals or $19,245 for married couples, are eligible tohave the government pay all or most of the monthly premiums andannual deductible. They must apply to the Social SecurityAdministration for the assistance.

People can also join the program online at www.medicare.gov orcall 1-800 MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227).

At the Web site, an online screening will narrow a person’soptions to the plans best suited for them, Hyde-Smith said.

“It scares seniors to death. It makes it a lot easier if theyknow someone computer savvy,” she said. “When you hand an80-year-old woman a Web site, you haven’t really helped them atall.”

Hyde-Smith said she has offered several workshops to help peopledetermine which plan would best suit their needs. Hyde-Smith andMoak said they have beeing trying help guide people in choosing thebest plan for their situations.

“It can be a confusing process,” Moak said. “We’ve been workingwith folks individually as they call us.”