2006-04-12 / Seniors

Changes Coming In Part D Program Next Year

The Bush Administration will issue new rules for next year regarding the Medicare Part D drug prescription program in an effort to avoid the serious problems which surfaced when the program went into effect this past January 1.

Among the changes expected according to a story published on the Internet by the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper, will be a reduction in the number of programs an insurance company may offer.

Also to be addressed are problems which forced seniors to leave their pharmacies without the prescriptions they were seeking, incorrect pricing, medication not covered and lack of enrollment verification.

Companies offering the program will also have to speed up their responses to telephone inquiries from the public. They will have to answer 80 percent of their customers' calls within 30 seconds, the story said, according to a 45-page letter the Federal Department of Health and Human Services sent to insurance companies.

The department's director, Michael Leavitt, spent last week reaching out to seniors trying to get them to enroll in the Part D program by the May 15 deadline and discussing the coming changes with them.

Noting the problems that the program encountered upon being introduced in January, Leavitt said, "When Medicare was rolled out in 1965, it got better in 1966."

He added, "We will get better at this. Government will be better at its part. The pharmacists will get better at managing the system and consumers will be better informed."

One of the major problems many seniors found with the new program, which is designed to save seniors money on their drug purchases, was that there were too many programs to consider before selecting one.

Critics of the multitude of programs offered complained there were too many comparisons to be considered and the information was difficult to understand.

Under the new rules, if several plans are offered by a single company, one should be a basic policy with a $250 deductible, the second can contain variations, but be of equivalent value and a third should be an enhanced alternative that reduces the "doughnut," the built-in gap in the present plan.

Another change that must be addressed is the situation that occurs when a plan doesn't cover a medication that a member must have.

Democratic Party congressmembers, who have assailed many of the problems that arose in January, have promised to fight for changes in the program. Some of the changes proposed by Leavitt's agency appear to meet the criticisms raised by the Democrats.

LAST CHANCE TO JOIN: The deadline for joining the Part D Medicare program is May 15. Anyone who fails to do so will face financial consequences, so every effort should be made to sign up by the deadline.

HELPING TO FIGHT HUNGER: Throughout the rest of April, the Glenridge Senior Center Multi Service and Advisory Center in Ridgewood will be partnering with the Feinstein Foundation to fight hunger, according to the Glenridge Executive Director, Susan Simonetti.

Any donation received by the center for its hunger program during this month, Simonetti said, will also receive a portion of the $1 million earmarked by the Feinstein Foundation for its fight against hunger. Last year, the foundation raised $480 million to combat hunger, Simonetti said.

As part of its fight hunger campaign, Glenridge will accept canned food donations and count their value toward the Center's $2,000 goal. A dinner dance will also be held on April 23 to raise funds. Donations may be sent to the center at 59-03 Summerfield St., Ridgewood, NY 11385, Attention Hunger Drive.

Organizations wanting to help in the hunger drive campaign can call Simonetti at 718-386-3131.

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