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Medicare Part D sign-ups for 2007 coverage start today

November 15, 2006

Editor's note: Due to the timely nature of the following information, results for last week's letter-writing contest will be delayed.




A year ago you fought your way through all the trouble and confusion to get enrolled in the Medicare Part D prescription drug plan.

Are you satisfied with the plan that you chose? Is it possible that there is something better out there?

Between now and the end of the year, you'll have a chance to find out by attending one of a series of enrollment events run by the Washington County Commission on Aging.

At these events, seniors and/or their family members get to sit down in front of a computer, with a volunteer on a one-to-one basis and search the Medicare Web site for a new or better plan. If a person decides to switch plans during annual open enrollment, effective coverage for the newly chosen Rx plan begins on Jan. 1, 2007.

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Katrina Eversole, the Commission on Aging's Senior Health Insurance program manager, said that the number of plans approved for Maryland has jumped from 46 to 57, including some that will take seniors through the so-called "doughnut hole."

Under Part D, when a person's annual prescription costs hit $2,400, then the senior must pay all costs until the total reaches $3,600, after which Medicare pays 95 percent of all prescription charges.

To participate in an enrollment event, seniors should bring their Medicare cards and a list of their medicines and the dosages. If it's easier, she said, just bring the pill containers.

Eversole said volunteers will help seniors - on a first-come, first-served basis - navigate the Medicare Web site and choose the best plan for their needs.

If you're happy with your plan, she said, you need not change. But if you're unhappy and you don't make a change, you'll be stuck with it for another year. It won't cost anything to look at other possibilities and might yield some savings, she said.

Those with so-called "creditable" coverage - employer group plans that are as good or better than Part D - need not enroll unless they lose coverage, she said.

But those who didn't have such coverage and didn't enroll in a plan at all last year now face a $1.91 per month penalty (which will be added on top of the Rx plan premium that they choose), which represents 1 percent per month of the national standard drug plan from June through December 2006.

If you do not have creditable coverage and delay enrollment until next year's annual open enrollment, you will have a 19 percent penalty added - and the penalty is cumulative, she said.

Eversole said she hasn't heard any horror stories lately - such as seniors going to the pharmacy and being told their coverage has expired. Now the problem calls are more about billing problems, she said.

At right is a list of scheduled events. Even if you believe you already have a good deal, it won't hurt to double-check. In other words, just because you go shopping doesn't mean you have to buy. But you won't find any bargains if you don't go and look.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.




November enrollment events In November, events will be held at each location listed from 9:30 a.m. until noon and from 1:30 p.m. until 4 p.m., unless otherwise noted.

Other events are planned for December and times, dates and locations will be announced as soon as possible.

· Wednesday, Nov. 15, Washington County Free Library.

· Friday, Nov. 17, Valley Mall at the Hagerstown Community College computer lab, from 9 a.m. until noon and 1:30 to 3 p.m. only.

· Monday, Nov. 20, Washington County Commission on Aging.

· Wednesday, Nov. 22, Washington County Library.

· Tuesday, Nov. 28, Washington County Commission on Aging.

- The Washington County Free Library's address is 100 S. Potomac St. Workshops will be held in the second floor computer lab. There is free parking. Check at front desk for elevator access

- The HCC computer lab is at the rear of Valley Mall near JCPenney under the Hagerstown Community College canopy.

- The Washington County Commission on Aging is at 140 W. Franklin St., fourth floor. There is elevator access. Parking is available in the Christ's Reformed Church lot on the left side of median (spaces 48-82.) Those with a disability may park in the "Aspiring to Serve" lot against the brick wall facing Prospect Street.

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