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Some seniors find enrollment isn't end of the Part D saga

February 05, 2006|By CANDICE BOSELY

Ron Powell was so proud of himself.

Aware he would need to enroll in the new Medicare prescription drug plan called "Part D," he attended four seminars about the program last month.

He listened to others ask questions and, after a smaller seminar, approached an expert and asked for help.

He realized he needed to find a prescription drug plan that carried all 13 of his medications and a pharmacy that participated in whatever plan he selected.

"I thought, 'I can do this,'" he said.

He figured out the three plans that would be the cheapest and eventually decided to enroll in AARP's plan, which carried all but one of his medications; none of the 47 plans offered in Maryland seemed to carry folic acid.


Powell, 65, of Hagerstown, thought he was done, thought he was free to wash his hands of the whole thing.

He was wrong.

In early January he received a letter from the federal government saying he had been automatically enrolled in a random plan of its choosing - not the AARP plan he had selected after all of his research.

"Why they chose to do that, I don't know," he said.

He said he believes - he hopes - that he has changed back to being enrolled in AARP's plan. He said he'd know for sure when he went to his pharmacy on Feb. 1 to obtain his medications.

On Feb. 2, Powell reported that all went well; he was able to get all of his medications without a problem.

Powell is not alone. Since Part D took effect on Jan. 1 many seniors have found themselves encountering problems.

-- They don't know how to use the Internet to enroll in a plan.

-- They call phone numbers but get no help.

-- They think they've finished only to go to the pharmacy and be given a far higher bill than expected, or they are told they cannot receive their medications.

-- They have questions and don't know who to ask for answers.

If this were a test, some might give Part D a grade of "F."

Hold the tomatoes

A recorded message for callers to the Washington County Commission on Agency office gives two choices: Press "1" for help with Part D or stay on the line for further assistance.

Pressing 1 takes you to Katrina Eversole, a health insurance advocate with the Senior Health Insurance Assistance Program who works out of the Commission on Aging's offices.

Eversole has been holding seminars around the county for months about Part D and answering phone calls.

"I get 50 calls a day and that's not even exaggerating," she said after a recent presentation held at Washington County Free Library.

During that seminar Eversole introduced herself to a small group of people, with a caveat.

"I'm not with the federal government. I always say that in case someone has a tomato they want to throw," she told those in attendance.

Part D allows people to choose from among dozens of competing private insurance plans and is intended to help people save money on their prescription drugs.

According to the Associated Press, about 42 million disabled and older U.S. residents are eligible to enroll in private plans. The government subsidizes the drug coverage, with additional subsidies provided for the poor.

Roughly 24 million are enrolled nationwide, including 6.2 million low-income recipients who were transferred from Medicaid rolls. Millions more were automatically enrolled as part of their retirement plan.

More than 3.5 million have voluntarily signed up for the plan nationwide, the Associated Press reported.

Eversole said her "biggest beef" with the plan is that enrollment is easiest to do online, yet many seniors do not have access to a computer or know how to use the Internet.

"No one likes change and the information is confusing. I try to make it as simple as possible," she said of her seminars, which include a PowerPoint presentation she put together and a question-and-answer session with attendees.

Perseverance needed

Arthur Copeland received a letter from Social Security last year saying help with his prescriptions was on the way and that he needed to do nothing.

He waited. And waited. And waited.

Finally, on Dec. 29, Copeland called Social Security and was told he needed to enroll in a drug plan. Over the phone, a woman enrolled him in a plan and gave him a confirmation number.

He went to his pharmacist at CVS on Dual Highway, gave him the confirmation number and was charged for his four prescriptions $67, $60, $57 and $0.

"I said, 'wait a minute. I'm supposed to be paying a co-pay of five dollars,'" Copeland, 71, of Hagerstown said.

He called Eversole, who suggested he call Medicare's 24-hour helpline. He placed the call at 12:46 a.m. on a Saturday, believing fewer people would be calling at such a time.

"I was on hold until 2 a.m., when I finally had to hang up," he said.

He called back later that afternoon and almost immediately was connected to a representative, who told Copeland that he was not in the system but that he would enroll him.

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