Millions of senior citizens and the disabled covered by Medicare are now being offered prescription drug coverage. The first day to enroll in Medicare "D" is Tuesday.
Advocates say the plan will be a lifesaver, but signing up is no simple matter. News on 6 reporter Heather Lewin says this is the biggest expansion of Medicare since the program was created.
It is projected to cost taxpayers $724-billion over 10 years and it is a helping hand to those who can't afford the medication they need, but the complicated plan to provide cheaper prescriptions is leaving many seniors with a headache.
At 79, Carl Stoops still leads a very independent life, one that includes band practice every Monday afternoon at the senior center. Just one of many there who need a little extra help paying for monthly medications. While they're glad about getting coverage, with so many options it's difficult to know which hand to play. Carl Stoops: "I needed somebody to help me understand it."
Stoops is not alone, with enrollment beginning November 15th, workers at Life Senior Services are swamped, and returning calls from anxious seniors. Medicare specialist Cindy Loftin: â€œIt can be very confusing, if for no other reason, the number of plans being offered to beneficiaries."
Oklahoma has 42 plans to choose from, all from competing insurance companies, offering their own versions of Medicare "D". Any option will offer at least the Medicare standard plan; it must cover generic and brand name drugs. The beneficiary pays the first $250 in drug costs, then the plan pays 75-percent of prescriptions, the patient covers a 25-percent co-payment. That's the basic plan; those on a fixed income can get additional help and may pay nothing at all for prescription drugs.
For those with a steady income, because the insurance companies are competing, some offer an even better deal than Medicare requires. Loftin says the biggest problem is making sure seniors find the right fit. She's worried some will become paralyzed with fear of making the wrong choice and make no decision at all. â€œBut what we want them to know mainly is take their time, look at the plans, compare them, there is time to make this decision."
Carl Stoops says he isn't happy about recently having to go on Medicare, but he's glad to have that safety net for himself and his friends, especially to cover the growing cost of prescription drugs. "They need help and those that need it I wanna see get it."
Free classes are being offered on how to choose a plan, just call Life Senior Services at 664-9000. Enrollment begins Tuesday; beneficiaries have until May 2006 to decide. Monthly premiums in Oklahoma range from $10 to $79, again that depends on your income.
For seniors who already have insurance, your provider is required to tell you how your coverage compares to Medicare's new plan and explain your options.