Drug benefit deadline is Friday

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 30, 2004

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressman G.K. Butterfield urges all eligible seniors to apply for the Medicare drug discount card and prescription credit by Friday to maximize their benefits.

Butterfield said that low-income seniors need to be aware that the deadline to receive benefits for 2004 is Friday, and that it could be a difference of up to $600. Butterfield explained that as part of the federal government’s overhaul of the Medicare program, qualified seniors can get a credit of $600 for this year – which can be rolled over to 2005 – and another $600 for next year.

Butterfield said that so far, about 5.8 million Americans have obtained the discount card, and about 1.4 million low-income seniors qualify for the credit for prescription purchases. It is estimated that there are at least seven million who qualify for the benefit, and most have not signed up.

&uot;It’s been difficult to persuade seniors to enroll,&uot; Butterfield said. &uot;Whether people are confusion or unaware of the benefits, the fact is not everyone is taking advantage of this program.&uot;

A sign of how difficult it has been to persuade seniors to enroll came last month, when Medicare sent out 1.8 million cards to low-income seniors, requiring just a phone call to activate the $600 benefit. Only 100,000 people responded.

Those who miss this year’s deadline can still receive a credit of up to $600 for next year. In addition to the prescription credit to some seniors, the discount cards also feature discounts off regular medication prices.

&uot;Unfortunately those discounts pale in comparison to those offered by online or Canadian retailers,&uot; Butterfield said. &uot;It is my hope that Congress will make this a safe and legal option for seniors in the coming session.&uot;

Butterfield also warned that signing up for an appropriate card can be a time-consuming and confusing task. Each card offers discounts for only certain medications, so consumers have to carefully pick the card that best fits their drug regimen.

Butterfield said that seniors can call Medicare at 1-800-633-4227 to begin the process. Seniors can also use the Medicare Web site at www.medicare.gov to find the best card and to enroll online or to print out an order form to mail it. Individuals with a yearly income of less than $12,569 and married couples with a combined income of less than $16,862 are eligible.

A broader drug benefit, called Medicare Part D, takes effect in 2006. The discount cards will not be available after next year.