The Medicare Drug Benefit Bus Tour Comes to Massachusetts
Fed officials rolled into MA this week in shiny buses with pictures of happy seniors, to publicize the new Medicare prescription drug benefit ("Part D") going into effect 1/1/06. Mark McClellan, director of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services was in Worcester. Secretary of Health and Human Services, former Utah Governor, Michael Leavitt, appeared in Boston with Mitt Romney. Both were here to increase awareness of Part D and "engage our partners" in educating communities.
Remarkable was the scarcity of information. McClellan said nothing about what CMS is doing to educate seniors or enroll difficult populations. Nothing about cost. Nothing about coverage gaps. Nothing about low income seniors or disabled residents when they are told their Medicaid card doesn't work . Nothing about what to say to thousands of MA seniors who will get less coverage than they receive under MA’s Prescription Advantage program.
Leavitt did better, explaining outreach efforts to date, giving the web site and phone number for Medicare, and acknowledging enrollment could be a "mess." Counselors worry about isolated seniors with cognitive impairments. Leavitt said "his greatest fear," is some folks will not enroll and will pay for drugs out of pocket. (They will be subject to a 1% premium hike for every month they don't enroll.) He echoed McClellan's comments that it's up to advocates and community workers to get the word out, without any $$ support to do that.
Officials are right about one thing: it's up to us. So help get the word out. Here are some key facts to get started:
- This program poses the greatest potential benefit for people with income under 150% of the federal poverty level ($14,355) who are ineligible for Medicaid. Those people are entitled to financial help.
- People who think they may be under 150% fpl should apply NOW. (All people on Medicaid, who qualify for Medicare will qualify automatically.) Fill out the application you should have received in the mail from Social Security, or click here for an online application: or call 1-800-772-1213 (TTY: 1-800-325-0778.)
- Enrolling in a drug plan is a separate step. (Dual eligibles will be automatically enrolled, but should look at the plans to see which best fits their needs.) Look for mail in October about plans in your area.
- If Medicare eligible, you must sign up for a prescription drug plan between November 15th and May 15th. If you don't enroll by May 15th, you will be charged a penalty for every month you don't enroll, unless you have other prescription drug coverage.
- Everyone on Prescription Advantage eligible for Medicare will have to enroll in a plan.