Archive for Thursday, April 27, 2006

Resources available for Medicare choice

April 27, 2006

The Part D drug benefit is considered the biggest change in the Medicare program since its inception four decades ago. And, with only five weeks until the deadline, seniors who do not sign up for the new Medicare Drug Program may pay higher costs if they choose to sign up in the future.

Talk of a delay in the May 15 deadline has subsided and now seems highly unlikely since top Medicare officials announced in March that there was no need to extend the deadline.

The May 15 deadline does not apply to people who celebrate their 65th birthdays after the enrollment period ends. They will be able to sign up for the drug benefit when they become Medicare eligible.

Seniors without comparable drug insurance who delay enrolling in a Part D plan will pay for waiting, as monthly premiums will increase by 1 percent of the national average of premiums for each month they wait to sign up and they'll go without coverage until next year. Those with comparable coverage (i.e., through a retirement program) will not have a penalty assessed if they wait to sign up.

The enrollment period for coverage in 2007 begins Nov. 15.

The daunting task of sorting through all of the red tape and multiple choices of the new federal drug plan has made the decision a bit overwhelming for Kansas seniors. The new drug plans can be confusing and education is the key to selecting the right plan.

Some key things to remember about the Medicare Part D program:

1. Everyone on Medicare can get drug coverage regardless of income or health.

2. It is not mandatory that you sign up.

3. To get coverage, you must choose one of the private drug plans that Medicare has approved.

4. If you have limited income and qualify for "extra help" you will pay very little.

5. If you have good drug coverage from another source (i.e., an employer), you may not need the new benefit, but it's wise to check.

There are several sources which Kansas seniors, looking for an objective overview of the various plans, can visit or call:

They are:

  • www.medicare.gov or call 1-800-MEDICARE.
  • SHICK (Senior Health Insurance Counseling of Kansas) has counselors available to answer questions and help with enrollment. To locate a SHICK counselor in your area, call 1-800-860-5260.
  • Consumer Assistance Representatives at the Kansas Insurance Department are also on hand to answer questions and may be reached by calling 1-800-432-2484 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

(Sandy Praeger is the Kansas Insurance Commissioner).

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