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Medicare drug coverage takes off amid confusion

The new Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plan is off to a slow but somewhat hectic start here.
Pharmacists are scurrying to try to make it work and to help their customers understand how the plan will affect them.
‘It’s been a nightmare’ said Denise Orwick of Davis Drugs yesterday. ‘The ‘Service on Line’ Web site hasn’t been working right, and we’ve been really busy helping people who come in, many with questions about the plan. I’ve talked with some pharmacies in New Albany who are experiencing the same problems.
‘It’s really confusing for people.’
Medicare Part D is the new prescription drug coverage that is optional to everyone who is eligible for Medicare. Coverage is provided by private insurance companies who cover specific drugs. Coverage began Jan. 1, and eligible Medicare applicants must sign up for the program before May 15 to avoid penalties. Participants pay a monthly premium in addition to monthly Medicare Part A and Part B premiums.
‘Overall, it’s been fairly smooth, considering how big the program is,’ said Katie Butt Beckort of Butt Drugs.
‘There are a lot of kinks in the program, that’s for sure,’ she said. ‘We’ve been working with our customers since November, talking to everyone who comes in about the program to find out what plan is best for them. This has helped everyone avoid a lot of confusion.
‘If some of our customers still have problems understanding the program,’ she continued, ‘I send them home with ‘homework.’ I gave a couple of workshops on it during the fall, one at the YMCA and another at a nursing home, to try to get people ready for the changes. I’ve worked really hard on this.
‘The government created a monster, and the media made it worse, but I think it is a good program and nothing that is good comes easily.’
Persons on both Medicare and Medicaid, the state’s medical care program for qualifying low-income persons, were signed up automatically for the prescription coverage. But the insurance in some cases doesn’t cover the prescriptions needed, which was a concern prior to the insurance taking effect.
That means those persons had to come up with the cash to cover the costs of drugs they thought would be covered, said Shirley Raymond, director of Harrison County Community Services.
In those cases, participants will have until next month to switch to an insurance plan that covers their drugs.
According to Dennis Rosebrough, the communications director for the Human Resources Dept. for the state of Indiana, help is available for those who ask.
‘The state has set up an education program to assist seniors with the Medicare plan,’ said Rosebrough. ‘We’re trying to provide additional support and information.
The Dept. of Insurance has a program called the Senior Health Insurance Information Program (SHIIP) that is staffed by both paid and volunteer staff members (1-800-452-4800).
‘This program is for all Hoosiers who may need information on the new Medicare prescription drug program,’ Rosebrough said. ‘In the last few months, the state has conducted a massive education effort with organizations that interact with seniors. We’ve held meetings all over the state.
‘Gov. Daniels challenged us to come up with a program to help Hoosiers, and I think we have,’ he added. ‘We have a group of trained volunteers that can be sent to any church or community center that feels the need to be further educated on the new plan. All they have to do is call the toll free number for instructions.
‘Medicare also has a toll-free number (1-800-633-4227) that is really helpful. If a person has access to a computer, Medicare also has a Web site that is really good and explains every aspect of the new drug plan (www. Medicare.gov). Even though this is not a state program, we feel that the state has a certain responsibility to assist Hoosiers in any way possible.’

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