2005-08-03 / Seniors

Medicare Turns 40, Poised For Greatest Expansion

Last Saturday, Medicare turned 40, and like many humans who reach that milestone, the program is entering one of its most dynamic and significant phases starting in January, as the new prescription drug coverage plan goes into effect.

Enrollment for the new program begins on November 1, just three months away, and to start getting seniors signed up for the program, President George W. Bush launched an information program to get prospective members’ attention.

Besides that, seniors will be receiving other reminders about the signup for the new program, which promises to reduce seniors’ out-of-pocket expenses for prescription drugs—the largest budget item for most of them.

For the rest of August, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has been mailing “Extra Help” applications to low-income seniors in an effort to get this group of seniors started on signing up for the program, which is geared to help low-income seniors save more than any other group. SSA’s mailings began in May and on July 1 it began processing applications.

Other major dates in the runup to the historic start of prescription drug coverage next January 1 are:

•September 30—New “Medicare & You” information booklet becomes available.

•October—Information about the Medicare Prescription Drug Plan will become available.

•November 15—Enrollment in the new program begins. Remember, each one of the 4.1 million members of Medicare are eligible to sign up for the revolutionary new program, although it is not mandatory and many seniors already are in a program which helps to pay for prescription expenses.

Anyone who wants to sign up must enroll in a specific plan starting November 1 and ending next May 15. All the information materials available explain the different plans being offered, so look around and try to get the information resources that are out there.

Call SSA or 800-MEDICARE-24 or go to www.medicare.gov to get the information that is available to help you choose a plan.

There are also advocate groups such as AARP, which can be of assistance. Another group offering help is Medicare Today, a national, non-profit, grass-roots campaign committed to educating seniors about the new prescription drug benefit program.

Medicare Today is made up of nearly 200 national organizations representing patients, seniors, healthcare providers, employer groups and others. The coalition includes organizations such as AARP, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the National Association of Chain Drug Stores and WalMart among others.

Medicare Today has planned a comprehensive program to reach seniors through a targeted, person-to-person approach to explain the new drug benefit. The program will go into high gear after Labor Day, with informational events in many communities.

WEST NILE VIRUS RETURNS: The city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) last week reported the first cases of West Nile Virus in 2005 in New York City, prompting a reminder to those over age 50 to take precautions to avoid contracting the sometimes deadly disease.

DOHMH Commissioner Thomas R. Frieden warned, “Many older New Yorkers may not know they are most likely to get seriously ill if infected with the West Nile Virus (WNV). As the summer goes on, people over the age of 50, and especially those over the age of 65, should guard against mosquito bites and all New Yorkers should get rid of standing water and make sure window screens are installed tightly and are free of tears or holes.”

Frieden also advised: wear long sleeved shirts, socks and pants when outdoors, use a mosquito repellent which contain the chemical DEET or Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus, get rid of standing water, remove discarded tires and clean and chlorinate swimming pools.

Frieden reported that three mosquito pools in The Bronx tested positive for the virus and two Manhattan men, one aged 50 and the other age 54 had been preliminarily diagnosed with West Nile Virus fever, but had not been hospitalized.

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