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White House Pushes New Medicare Prescription Drug Program as Deadline Nears

Based on content from Whitehouse.gov
Edited Article and Commentary by Dr. Don Rose, Writer, Life Alert

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The new Medicare prescription drug coverage, which went into effect January 1, 2006, lets seniors enjoy significant savings in their drug prescription costs. The official White House website, Whitehouse.gov, points out that, as of early May, over 31 million people had signed up for the new drug benefit, surpassing the administration's enrollment goal of 28-30 million. The site also says that 90 percent of the estimated 43 million eligible seniors may ultimately enroll by the May 15 deadline. Millions are also being automatically enrolled.

However, the May 15 cutoff date is still something many seniors must take action on; hence, the President has been making speeches in a final push to inform procrastinators about the new Medicare benefit. Seniors who wish to take maximum advantage of the new drug benefit should act before May 15. To help raise awareness, the article below presents facts and tips from a webpage about the new Medicare drug plan on the White House website.

One important item to note is that low income beneficiaries who qualify for the limited-income subsidy after May 15 will have extra time to enroll. While there are rumors that an extension for others might still be enacted, that is not confirmed, and so all eligible seniors are urged to sign up now for maximum savings. Those signing up AFTER May 15 may face coverage delays and/or wind up paying more. --Dr. Don Rose

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President Bush and Medicare Prescription Drug Coverage

On May 9, 2006, President Bush discussed how signing up for the new Medicare prescription drug coverage program can help beneficiaries save money and get the drugs they need. When the President came into office, Medicare was outdated and did not meet the needs of America's seniors. Congress passed, and the President signed into law, legislation to modernize Medicare by providing preventive care, offering seniors more choices, and giving seniors better access to the prescription drugs they need.

President George W. Bush and Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt with seniors at a Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit Enrollment Event at Broward Community College in Coconut Creek, Fla., Tuesday, May 9, 2006. White House photo by Eric Draper
President George W. Bush and Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt with seniors at a Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit Enrollment Event at Broward Community College in Coconut Creek, Fla., Tuesday, May 9, 2006. White House photo by Eric Draper.

Enhanced Prescription Drug Coverage Helps Beneficiaries

Medicare beneficiaries can be helped by the new drug plan in several important ways:
  • Medicare drug coverage helps all beneficiaries pay for prescription drugs, no matter how they paid before. The typical senior who previously lacked drug coverage will end up spending about half of what he or she used to spend on prescription drugs each year - an average annual savings of $1,100.
  • Medicare drug coverage offers more and better choices than ever before. Beneficiaries can choose from a number of private plans to find the one that best serves them - and plan providers are competing for seniors' business. That means seniors can save more and get the coverage they want.
  • The competition to serve seniors has been stronger than expected, lowering costs for seniors and the government.The average premium seniors pay for their prescription drug benefit is just $25 per month instead of $37 per month, and this year the Federal government will spend 20 percent less overall on the Medicare drug benefit than was projected last July.
  • Beneficiaries who have the highest drug costs receive extra help. Medicare will pick up as much as 95 percent of all prescription costs once beneficiaries spend $3,600 of their own money each year. This catastrophic protection provides peace of mind for beneficiaries.
  • Medicare is providing extra help to low-income beneficiaries. About a third of seniors are eligible for prescription drug coverage that includes little or no premiums, low deductibles, and no gaps in coverage. On average, Medicare will pay for more than 95 percent of the costs of prescription drugs for low-income seniors. The days of low-income seniors having to make painful sacrifices to pay for their prescription drugs are coming to an end.

Millions Have Enrolled and are Saving Money

Millions of seniors have signed up and millions have drug coverage. Of the more than 42 million people eligible for Medicare, more than 31 million people with Medicare now have prescription drug coverage and hundreds of thousands more are enrolling each week. Nearly 6 million more have an alternative source of coverage.

Beneficiaries not yet enrolled must do so by May 15, 2006 for the lowest premiums. More than 85 percent of all eligible beneficiaries now are either enrolled in Medicare drug plans or have other sources of coverage. About 5 million eligible beneficiaries have not yet enrolled.
  • Low income beneficiaries who qualify for the limited-income subsidy (LIS) after May 15 will have extra time to enroll. About 3 million beneficiaries who have not yet enrolled are eligible for the LIS. A one-time opportunity using a special enrollment period will enable these beneficiaries to enroll in a Medicare prescription drug plan immediately after they become eligible for the limited-income subsidy, even if this is after May 15. This one-time enrollment for beneficiaries who qualify for the LIS is very different from extending the open enrollment period - it simply gives beneficiaries who are newly qualified for LIS a one-time opportunity to enroll when they qualify.
  • The extra help available through the LIS allows for comprehensive and valuable drug coverage - in most cases for just a few dollars for every prescription. Medicare will also continue to facilitate enrollment in a drug plan for people who qualify for the LIS if they do not choose a plan on their own.

Three Steps to Getting Drug Coverage Now

Eligible beneficiaries should:
  1. make a list of their prescriptions, or just gather their pill bottles;
  2. make sure they have their red, white, and blue Medicare card handy to get personalized help;
  3. call, or go online, or visit one of the many sources of help available.

Local Community Organizations Help Seniors Find the Best Plan

To meet the specific needs of each beneficiary,Medicare has undertaken an unprecedented effort along with thousands of national and local partner organizations including Area Agencies on Aging, the National Council on Aging, the NAACP, the AARP, disability organizations, church groups, pharmacists and physicians. More than 1,000 enrollment seminars have been held each week.

Other Enhanced Benefits Provided by Medicare

Part of modern, effective health care is recognizing that if diseases are caught early, the problem is much easier to cure. Medicare is an important element in that fight.
  • Every senior entering Medicare (most at age 65) is now eligible for a "Welcome to Medicare" physical exam.
  • Medicare is covering beneficiaries for annual screenings that can catch illnesses like diabetes and heart disease.

Closing Thoughts

May 15, 2006 is the deadline to sign up for the new Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit without incurring a penalty of time (possible coverage delays) and/or money (higher cost). Seniors or their relatives can get more information by calling 1-800-MEDICARE or visiting their website at www.medicare.gov. On the Medicare site, it takes most seniors about one hour to sign up once they have their information about their healthcare needs. The Medicare website has easy-to-use tools to help seniors find the plan that best fits their needs. Beneficiaries need only their red, white, and blue Medicare cards and their current prescriptions. Children of eligible beneficiaries should at least take time to give their parents the benefit of finding out what is available.

Resources

A colorful document that summarizes what seniors should know and do regarding the new Medicare drug program can be found by clicking here:  Link to Full PDF DocumentFive Simple Steps: "A National Day of Conversation - Friends and Family First".

The “Secretary’s Progress Report III on the Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit” is available at http://www.hhs.gov/secretaryspage.html.

www.hhs.gov -- the official website for HHS (the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services).

www.medicare.gov -- the official U.S. Government site for people with Medicare.

The article above is based on a discussion (“Strengthening Medicare”) in the Medicare section of the official White House website (www.whitehouse.gov). Whitehouse.gov content is in the public domain and is, to the best of our knowledge, reliable and accurate.

Dr. Don Rose writes books, papers and articles about computers, the Internet, AI, science and technology, and issues related to seniors.

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