Early sign-up imperative for Medicare-D.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

As early as Nov. 15, individuals with Medicare will be able to sign up for the new drug program. According to the 2006 information booklets sent out by the Social Security Administration, the new drug coverage is open to anyone who now is on Medicare regardless of age and no matter how drugs are paid for today.

As with other insurance plans, there is a monthly premium for the coverage, but unlike many private insurances, the premium is not based on the individual's health status or the number of prescriptions needed. However, the prescription drug option chosen will affect coverage, cost, convenience and security both now and in the future.

One of the key pieces of information the SSI wants people to understand is that everyone must make a decision about their drug coverage. And if a person is dual-eligible (has both Medicare and Medicade) and they don't select a plan, a plan and a pharmacist will be chosen for them. According to local pharmacists, the danger here is that the pharmacist chosen may not be in the town where the person resides.

Pharmacists point out that while it may not be a problem for some to have to travel to Marion, Jonesboro or West Memphis to have their prescriptions filled, for others it would be a terrible hardship. They say that for those who are dual-eligible and run this risk, it is imperative that a plan be chosen before the May 15, 2006 cutoff.

An individual who is not dual eligible can opt out of the plan if they choose. However, if they decide to join the program after the cutoff date, they could possibly have to pay a penalty.

The plans which are available are the Medicare Prescription Drug Plan which covers drugs only, or a person may join a Medicare Advantage or other Medicare Healthcare Plan which covers doctors and hospitals as well as drugs.

Not all of the plans are available through all pharmacists. Each drug store chooses which plans they will be a part of for various reasons.

All the druggists interviewed for this article were universally agreed that the best thing to do is contact the specific drug store where they would like to do business or have been doing business in the past to see what plans are available. While the pharmacist can't sign up a person, they can inform the individual as to what they must do to enroll in a chosen plan.

In many cases plan representatives will be coming to different drug stores, nursing facilities and retirement villages to help people in deciding on which plan is best for them.

For additional information about the plans available contact Medicare at www.medicare.gov or call 1-800-medicare.

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