Medicare: Many did not sign up for Plan D

May 21, 2006|by CANDICE BOSLEY

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Whether it was because of procrastination, choice, confusion, stubbornness or simply being oblivious, estimates indicate that several thousand Medicare recipients in Washington County did not sign up for a Medicare prescription drug plan by the deadline last week, officials said.

Final figures were not available late Friday afternoon, but as of May 7 - one week before the May 15 deadline to enroll in a Medicare prescription drug plan called Part D - 16,154 people out of the county's 23,266 Medicare beneficiaries would have prescription drug coverage, said Katrina Eversole, a health insurance advocate with the Senior Health Insurance Assistance Program who works out of the offices of the Washington County Commission on Aging.

Now, with the exception of low-income senior citizens, it will be six months before anybody can enroll in a Part D plan - a program designed to save Medicare recipients money on their prescription drugs.


Anyone eligible to receive Medicare is eligible to sign up for a prescription drug plan.

Of those who enrolled in Washington County, 6,869 enrolled in one of the state's 47 Part D plans, 44 enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan that includes medical and drug coverage, 1,936 people eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid automatically were enrolled in a drug plan and 5,302 retirees will obtain drug coverage from plans such as those offered by private employers.

Another 1,177 will receive coverage from a plan offered to retired federal government employees, and 826 will obtain coverage through TRICARE, a plan for retired military members, Eversole said.

That leaves more than 7,000 "unknowns" - people whose prescription drug coverage was in question, Eversole said.

Mike Leavitt, secretary of Health and Human Services, declared the initial enrollment efforts a success. He estimated that about 38 million beneficiaries out of nearly 43 million would have some prescription drug coverage this year through one source or another, the Associated Press reported.

Remaining problems

While the ides of May won't be remembered like the ides of March - the date of Julius Caesar's assassination more than 2,000 years ago - this year, May 15 was a noteworthy date.

On radio and television, in newspapers and through direct mailings, Medicare recipients repeatedly were reminded of the deadline.

Still, chances are good someone doesn't know the deadline, for now, has passed.

"I'm sure I'm going to get calls (from people who say), 'Tell me about Part D. What's going on?'" Eversole said.

Eversole spent months educating people about the ins and outs of Part D by speaking to groups large and small at Robinwood Medical Center, the public library and other sites.

With help from her husband, she created a PowerPoint presentation about Part D, and sometimes worked long hours and on weekends.

She has been the local face of Part D. She also has been the voice - anyone who called the Commission on Aging with a question about Part D was routed to her office.

Although Eversole said that the deadline last Monday brought a sense of relief because she no longer will be working at such a frenetic pace, it was bittersweet for another reason.

Now, she said, she will be taking phone calls from people who must be told they cannot sign up for a plan until mid-November and that their coverage won't begin until January.

Phone calls of all types keep coming in.

One day last week after the deadline had passed, Eversole said she had 30 voice-mail messages awaiting a return phone call.

"I'm trying to follow up on glitches, on problems," she said.

Some common problems involve people being enrolled in two plans instead of one. In some instances, people wanted to switch plans and thought they had, only to learn the change had not taken effect, or that they were enrolled in both plans.

Others have told Eversole that they cannot afford their medications under their new plan.

"I don't know how long it will take to resolve them," Eversole said of the problems.

Maryland residents had 47 drug plans from which to choose, with deductibles of up to $250. The average monthly premium is $32.

After reaching their deductible, seniors pay 25 percent of their drug costs and Medicare pays the other 75 percent. Low-income seniors might qualify for additional help to ensure they pay no deductible and that prescriptions cost no more than $5 each, Eversole has said.

Waiver of penalty is pondered

With May 15 having come and gone, what's next?

This year and in future years on a regular basis, an open enrollment period will be held from Nov. 15 to Dec. 31, with coverage to begin Jan. 1.

Between now and then, only low-income seniors can enroll in a plan or change the one in which they are enrolled, Eversole said.

Efforts by advocacy groups to extend the May 15 deadline were unsuccessful, but some U.S. legislators expressed optimism that a penalty won't be assessed for those who didn't sign up by the deadline.

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