Local News

Nothing Simple About Medicare Drug Benefit Plan, Officials Say

Posted October 4, 2005 6:19 a.m. EDT

— More than a million people in North Carolina who depend on Medicare to pay for health care are suddenly getting bombarded with ads from health providers who want their business. And that's causing plenty of confusion.

"It's very confusing," Doreen Haslip said. Haslip and other seniors at the Whitaker Mill Senior Center are waiting for more information about the Medicare Prescription Drug Coverage program.

Starting this week, they're getting it as 16 insurance companies have started marketing the 38 plans under the program to the state's 1.3 million Medicare recipients.

"It's not going to be a simple selection process," Carla Obiol, who is with the Seniors' Health Insurance Information Program (SHIIP), said.

Here's why: Officials with SHIIP said most of the drug plans will have a $250 deductible, but not all of the plans will.

The plans will also vary in their monthly premiums. The average monthly premium will be about $37 a month.

Plus, the co-pay will be 25 percent for most plans, and each plan will cover a different list of drugs.

Obiol said seniors "need to make sure they select a prescription drug plan that's going to cover the prescriptions they're currently on."

SHIIP officials said volunteers will be reaching out to seniors across the state to help them decide which option is the best for them.

With some seniors spending hundreds of dollars a month on medication, it is estimated the new benefit could save them up to 50 percent on medical expenses.

But some seniors aren't convinced.

"It just depends. My husband takes a lot more medications than I do. So I suppose we're going to have to cross that bridge when we come to it," Haslip said.

That bridge is not far off. The enrollment period is November 15 through May 15.

After that period, anyone who did not sign up that should have will be penalized 1 percent each month they are late. There are exceptions for people currently covered under an employer's medical plan.