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Workshop helps seniors save money on prescription plans

December 03, 2009|By BRIDGET DiCOSMO

HAGERSTOWN -- It was an advertisement in the newspaper that helped Stanley Campbell realize he was using the wrong Medicare plan for his needs.

Campbell, 77, of Boonsboro, said the rising costs of prescription drugs meant his coverage plan was costing more than he could afford to pay.

When he attended a previous Maryland Senior Prescription Drug Assistance Program workshop that he learned about in the newspaper, representatives gave him the guidance to choose a plan that better suited his needs, he said Wednesday at a similar workshop.

"I'm taking a good bit of medication, and when that goes up, you try to figure out what to do," Campbell said.

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Many senior citizens who face coverage gaps in their Medicare Part D prescription drug plans can be helped by available subsidies, but they might be unaware of the opportunity, said Tate Showers, deputy director of Maryland Senior Prescription Drug Assistance Program (MSDAP).

Medicare Part D is a federally funded program designed to supplement the cost of prescription drugs for those currently receiving Medicare health coverage.

Although about 1,300 Washington County residents currently receive assistance from the program, MSDAP received sufficient funding this year to expand its membership by about 5,000 senior citizens who might be struggling to afford their medications, Showers said.

At an all-day open enrollment workshop Wednesday at Plaza Hotel in Hagerstown, program representatives helped senior citizens determine whether their current prescription coverage was the best plan for them.

A majority of senior citizens who attended the workshop expressed concerns about rising drug costs, Showers said.

Representatives took a lot of applications for the assistance program, which has yearly enrollment and is offered to Maryland residents on Medicare Part D who earn an income at or below 300 percent of federal standards for the poverty level, program counselor Phil Russell said.

"A main concern is that premiums continue to rise," Russell said.

The assistance program, created in 2005 by the Maryland General Assembly, offers a "premium subsidy," which pays up to $25 of what members owe for prescriptions monthly regardless of which Medicare drug plan they use.

This year, the program received $18 million in funding from the state and CareFirst Blue Cross Blue Shield, allowing it to offer a new subsidy designed to assist senior citizens who take medication that costs more than the annual $2,830 initial coverage limit, Showers said.

Once the $2,830 limit is reached, seniors hit the "doughnut hole" and have to foot the bill for the full cost of their prescriptions until the amount reaches a catastrophic limit of $6,440, Showers said.

"That's a lot of money for seniors on fixed expenses," Showers said.

The new "doughnut hole subsidy," offered in conjunction with 26 of the 71 possible drug plans, provides $1,200 to supplement costs of medication during the coverage gap.

When drug costs exceed $6,440, someone receiving Medicare Part D coverage can pay 5 percent of the total cost under the plan's catastrophic benefit.

During the gap period, the individual receiving the subsidy would be required to pay only the 25 percent for which they were responsible before they reached the doughnut hole.

That $1,200 subsidy might sustain seniors who reach the coverage gap late in the year, Showers said.

"Some of the folks I've seen today reached the doughnut hole in April," she said.

One man reported the cost of his medication exceeded the initial coverage limit of $2,830 within the first month, Showers said.

About a third of the assistance program's 23,000 Maryland members currently receive the doughnut hole subsidy, Russell said.

Tips to save seniors money on prescription drugs



The following tips can help senior citizens control costs of prescription drugs under Medicare, according to representatives of the Maryland Senior Prescription Drug Assistance Program:

o Use the Medicare Web site at www.medicare.gov/Default.asp to perform plan comparisons.

o Educate yourself as much as possible about different plan options.

o Contact a program representative at 1-800-551-5995 to see if you qualify for membership.

o Compare costs at pharmacies in your area.

o Talk to your doctor about drug substitutes and generic brands that might cost less.

o Make sure the drugs you are taking are included in your Medicare plan's list of medications they cover, and be aware of any changes in that list.

o Some offer pharmaceutical programs to help defer costs for those on low-income budgets.

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