The benefits of Medicare's Prescription Drug Program

Published 10:57 pm Monday, March 6, 2006

By By Jo Bonner
For nearly four months, senior Americans have been signing up for the permanent Medicare prescription drug benefit that will help cover some of the cost of their medications.
Nearly four million people have voluntarily enrolled in the new Medicare drug benefit, and nearly 20 million others are automatically receiving coverage through an integrated health plan or their employer.
In total, 24 million seniors are now receiving help with their prescription drug costs. In Alabama's First Congressional District, 56,571 seniors, or 52 percent of the Medicare eligible beneficiaries, have enrolled in the prescription drug program.
Medicare's new prescription drug program helps America's seniors meet the cost of their medication. Everyone with Medicare is eligible for the coverage, regardless of income level and resources, pre-existing conditions, or current expenses.
Prescription drugs are a part of everyday life for many seniors, and before this prescription drug program was implemented, many paid large sums of their fixed income towards very expensive medication.
Our health care system uses prescription drugs to prevent, manage, and cure illnesses. As we age, most people need prescription drugs to stay healthy. These necessary medications can be expensive, and some seniors were even forced to cut back on their drug dosage or completely forgo them due to the cost. No senior should have to make that decision. The Medicare drug benefit provides insurance against future high drug costs.
When Congress crafted the prescription drug benefit, it was a priority to introduce a competitive pricing structure to the process in order to lower drug costs for seniors.
The competition has already had an intended effect – it is driving down drug prices and premiums for seniors. There are many plans available that have no premiums or no deductibles. According to Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS), a typical beneficiary with no coverage today will save about 50 percent on prescription drug costs under the new program.
For seniors with limited means, additional help is also available. About one-third of all people with Medicare will qualify for extra assistance that will cover between 85 percent and almost 100 percent of prescription drug costs. More than one million low-income seniors have been approved for the extra financial assistance.
Yet, even with the significant money savings opportunities, some seniors are becoming increasingly concerned with misleading accounts they see in the news. It is true, there have been bumps in the road while implementing this prescription drug program for millions of Americans, but CMS has assured Congress that they are working through these minor glitches to ensure that seniors who sign up will get the coverage they deserve and need. Congress is also working closely with CMS to make sure this happens as quickly as possible.
Keep in mind, the drug benefit is voluntary and flexible. If needed, seniors can revisit their options and change their Medicare plan annually. When using your Medicare prescription drug benefit for the first time, CMS suggests bringing your enrollment card or, if you have not received a card, a confirmation letter from your plan provider to the pharmacy. Also, you should bring your Medicaid card if you are Medicaid eligible.
The last day to sign up for coverage is May 15, 2006. Seniors who do not sign up by May 15, 2006, will have to wait until November 15, 2006, to join and may pay a penalty, if they choose to join after that time.
There are numerous resources to help seniors sign up for a drug plan that best fits their needs, including local senior centers, your local pharmacy, and additionally, CMS has a toll-free hotline to talk to a Medicare representative 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That number is 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227).
The Medicare &You handbook and other helpful information can also be found at:
Celebrating Women's History Month
During this month's celebration of women's history, I encourage all Americans to pause and honor the legacy of the courageous women who have helped shape our nation. From Sacagawea to Susan B. Anthony to Rosa Parks, our nation's history is filled with stories of pioneering women who have made a difference for so many of us.
The public celebration of women's history in this country began in 1978 in Sonoma County, California, with the first celebration of Women's History Week. In 1981, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Rep. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) co-sponsored a joint congressional resolution proclaiming a national Women's History Week. In 1987, Congress expanded the celebration to a month, and March was declared Women's History Month.
My staff and I work for you. Please call if we can be of service.
Jo Bonner is a U.S. congressman. His column appears weekly.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox