• 68°

Seniors introduced to drug benefit program

DRUM HILL – The new Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit program offers 41 different plans in North Carolina alone and many Medicare recipients are truly confused on which plan to choose and what assistance they will get in paying for prescription medications.

More than 30 senior citizens in the Drum Hill and Gates communities recently met at New Piney Wood Chapel to participate in an informative question and answer session that provided them with a better understanding of the drug programs.

The church is one of many places that are holding such meetings in the Albemarle Region. Thanks to Dorothy Saunders, hostess for the event, and a group of Piney Wood volunteers, the senior citizens enjoyed a down home country breakfast during the meeting.

November 15 was the first day senior citizens across the nation could sign up for the new Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit program and Catherine P. Smith, of the Albemarle Commission Area Agency on Aging, called the program the &uot;biggest thing&uot; to happen in Medicare in decades.

As Smith said, many senior citizens on a fixed income have to choose whether to eat or pay for prescriptions, some of which are critical to their lives.

&uot;It’s affecting every person on Medicare who is disabled and those who have both Medicare and Medicaid,&uot; she added.

&uot;Nationwide, this affects millions of people; in North Carolina, 10’s of thousands; and in Gates County and Hertford, thousands.&uot;

Smith said the new program has been a very successful partnership between Medicare, Social Security, the Division of Aging, the Department of Insurance and the Cooperative Extension Service.

&uot;There are so many caring groups and agencies and they take the Prescription Drug Benefit program very seriously,&uot; said Smith. &uot;They have all worked so hard to coordinate everything in the program and we believe it will benefit all our senior citizens.&uot;

Smith, a Family Caregiver Resource Specialist, said enrollment for the drug plans began Nov. 15 and ends May 15, 2006. If someone were to enroll by Dec. 31, their prescription drug coverage would begin Jan. 1, 2006.

&uot;However, postponing enrollment until May 15, 2006 may result in a one percent per month penalty for every month you delay enrollment,&uot; Smith told the group. &uot;That means that if you waited three years to enroll, you would be penalized 36 percent increase in the cost of your medications and that is not just once, but for the rest of your life for every prescription you buy.&uot;

Even those who feel they do not take enough medications to consider joining the drug plan should reconsider because of the increase in the penalty.

Smith explained that anyone receiving Medicare is eligible to enroll in the drug benefit program, regardless of income or assets.

She said that even if recipients owned their home and several acres of land, it would not be counted as assets.

&uot;Even if you had 100 acres, or say that they cut a county road across your property and part was on one side and the rest of your land was then across that road, it would not count as an asset,&uot; said Smith. &uot;They also don’t count vehicles, burial plots or personal possessions.&uot;

Every recipient will choose their own Prescription Drug Plan (PDP) and they should carefully study the lists of drug companies participating in the program. In selecting a PDP, make sure that all medications are listed with the drug company.

Monthly costs for PDP’s in North Carolina range from under $20 to $68. After selecting a plan, recipients can also choose which pharmacy they prefer to use. Coverage for the plans is nationwide, a fact that is important to seniors who travel.

Another important fact Smith discussed; the PDP pays for brand name as well as generic drugs.

Like any other type of insurance, if you join a PDP you will pay a monthly premium unless you quality for the extra assistance, generally about $37 a month in 2006. You would also pay a small co-pay for prescriptions.

Some recipients with a limited income of less than $14,355 for an individual or $19,245 for a married couple will qualify for extra help in paying for the drug plan. At least 11 North Carolina plans will cover the full premium. Smith advised the seniors to fill out applications for help as soon as possible to get enrolled in the program. She suggested making a list of every drug in the dosage they take and take that information to pharmacies to compare their prices for medications.

For more information on the new PDP, residents of Gates and Hertford Counties may call Smith at 252-426-5753, Ext. 226, or email her at cpsmith@simflex.com. You may also call Medicare at 1-800-633-4227, or log onto the website at www.medicare.gov.