system has caused a lot of confusion and raised many questions.
Vita Ratliffe is a regular customer at Person Street Pharmacy. With lupus and high blood pressure, the 74-year-old spends a lot of money on prescription drugs and it all comes out of her own pocketbook.
"I'll spend, like, about $200 to $300 a month," she said.
Ratliffe said she is glad Medicare offers a way to pay those costs. Benefits begin as early as Jan. 1. In North Carolina, 19 different companies offer an array of federally approved benefit programs. However, you have to sign up by May 15, 2006, or pay a penalty.
"Unfortunately, seniors start looking at things like this and see how complicated it is, then they just do nothing," said pharmacist Mike James.
James said the challenge is to choose a program that covers the prescriptions you take or may take in the future.
"Even if it covers what you have today, if you get a new prescription in a couple of months, that drug may not be on one of the lists," he said.
Medicare.gov offers a page where you list your prescriptions and see which plans cover it. You can also call 1-800-MEDICARE or ask your pharmacist.
"The pharmacist is obviously the best choice because they know what you're taking. They can print out on a computer the drugs you're on and compare those drugs to the programs that exist out there today," James said.
The next step is a matter of choosing a plan with the lowest monthly premium. Ratliffe said she is not one to put off making that kind of decision.
"I like to get things behind me, not keep thinking about what am I going to do," she said.
Many people already have prescription drug coverage from their employer or retirement plan. However, those plans may not offer better coverage than Medicare programs.