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    Wednesday, November 30, 2005

    Medicare D-Day: Senior citizens continue to be uncomfortable with the Medicare Part D program. Many find it confusing:

    Many senior citizens are telling their congressmen and senators that the new Medicare drug plan, touted as a money-saver by the Bush administration, is nothing but a big headache.

    ....Nearly half of senior citizens don't believe the benefit will help them, according to a survey conducted last month by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health.

    Lautenberg said one of his big concerns is that many seniors don't realize the new plan will leave them with a coverage gap that would require them to pay $5,100 before the government would pick up 95 percent of the bill.

    "The coverage gap is like a cruel trick that the administration is playing on our nation's seniors," Lautenberg said. "Why in the world would we create a supposed drug benefit that suddenly disappears in the middle of the year?"

    ...Mildred Fruhling of Edison, N.J., agrees with the Democrats. Fruhling knows the ins and outs of Medicare and has appeared at news conferences with Lautenberg and Sen. Jon Corzine, both New Jersey Democrats, as well as in a nonprofit consumer group's video regarding Medicare.

    "It's so confusing," said Fruhling, 78. "What am I supposed to do? Take a dart and throw it and that's the plan I go with?"

    Mrs. Furhling isn't your typical senior citizen, so it's hard to say how representative she is of the average person's experience with the plan. Although the program has gotten a lot of press, mostly bad, the effort to reach out to seniors to help them understand how to sign up and how to compare plans seems to have been uneven.

    Some of my patients tell me it's hopelessly complicated. Others tell me they received a booklet with information and plan choices in it, and that it's no different than choosing a plan from an employer (in cases where employers offer more than one plan.) I suspect the thought of comparing several optionis (sometimes over 40) is overwhelming to a lot of people.

    Recently, I helped my mom check out her options. My mom's no stranger to making financial decisions, but she wasn't sure where or how to begin, even though my aunt had emailed her the URL of the government's web site. And, although my mom's had experience with computers her entire working life, she's just beginning to use the internet. She didn't feel comfortable launching into it on her own. My mom is also a young senior citizen - she's just 65, new to Medicare, and healthy (no medications.)

    The process wasn't painful at all, although one does need to know a little bit about one's current Medigap coverage. (Surprisingly, a lot of people don't know this information. They just take it for granted. At least in my practice.) I walked Mom through the website, via telephone. We were both able to access the same webpages at the same time, even though we had to sign in with her Medicare claim number. (Here's a toolkit for families that might be useful, though I didn't look at it beforehand).

    My mom and I started here, with the Prescription Drug Plan finder. The search can be personalized or general (without entering any personal information, beyond the zip code, for those who have doubts about the safety of personal information on the internet.) We ended up with a table like this that summarizes the different plans, their monthly premium, annual deductibles, and what percentage of the top 200 most commonly used drugs by people with Medicare they cover. The search can be narrowed further to plans that cover certain drugs, and to limits on premiums and annual deductibles.

    Just to see what the search by drug/pharmacy was like, I narrowed the search by entering three drugs commonly used by the elderly - atenolol, hydrochlorothiazide, and Fosamax. This was the result. I can see how that much information would be overwhelming for some elderly people who weren't used to making those kinds of comparisons and decisions. And it must be extremely difficult for someone without a computer to gather this kind of information.

    The internet information is excellent and comprehensive, and a wonderful idea. It's just one that is better suited to another generation.

    posted by Sydney on 11/30/2005 06:31:00 AM 2 comments


    Medicare is a great form of health insurance for many individuals and there is no way it should be cut off as health coverage is a major importance to many.

    By Anonymous Blue Cross of California, at 2:20 PM  

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    By Anonymous group health insurance plans, at 11:23 PM  

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