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Pa. seniors split on benefit of Medicare drug plan

April 20, 2006|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - At the rate of 380,000 a week, senior citizens are signing up for the Medicare Part D prescription drug plan, but some are resisting the government's push to enroll them as U.S. Rep Bill Shuster, R-Pa., heard Thursday at the Chambersburg Senior Activities Center.

"I've talked to a couple of people here today that said they haven't signed up and they're not going to sign up," Shuster said a few minutes after arriving at the center to urge seniors to enroll. The deadline for the enrollment period that began last fall ends May 15, he said.

Medicare recipients who do not enroll by the deadline will see their monthly premium increase 1 percent for each month they delay, Shuster said. Premiums cannot be more than $37 a month, currently, while the average is about $25, he said.

There is also an annual deductible which cannot exceed $250 a year, he said. The next opportunity to enroll for 2007 runs from Nov. 15 to Dec. 31, according to the Medicare Web site.

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"The cheapest plan is $10 a month with a $250 deductible," said Edgar Brindle, 73, one of about 40 seniors at the meeting. He said the plan is no benefit to him because his prescriptions cost only $134 a year.

Shuster asked all the seniors who had not signed up to call 1-800-MEDICARE or go online to Medicare.gov to get answers to their questions. The program can be confusing, with 52 prescription plans available in Pennsylvania, "about a dozen" in this area, Shuster said.

Most Medicare recipients should realize some savings, Shuster said. The average senior citizen pays about $1,300 a year for medications and the plan can reduce that by about $300, he said.

Shuster predicted about 30 million people out of an eligible population of 45 million will be enrolled by May 15. The balance will include people with adequate private prescription drug plans, or those who choose not to enroll.

Employers with existing prescription plans are being subsidized to maintain those programs, Shuster said.

Dan Miller, 66, said the company he retired from did not maintain his prescription coverage, instead giving him and his wife $1,000 a year toward the purchase of medications. Under Medicare Part D, however, he said the cost of their medications has gone up and they are paying $2,700 more per year than when he was covered by his former employer.

The extra cost means "our playtime is reduced or gone ... It takes money to take a vacation," Miller said. The prescription plan will, however, be a savings for some seniors, he said.

"Any senior citizen that was paying full price for their drugs with no prior program will save some money," Miller said.

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