From what I can tell, wading through the information about the 2009 Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plan is about as pleasant as scaring a family of skunks out from under your house.
In both cases you might succeed, but it will take a while to get over the process. Besides that, postponing any action will only make things worse.
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This time of year can be very confusing for those who qualify for Medicare. They have to sort through dozens of prescription drug plans, some of them scams, to find the best one for their health status and wallets. The fact that the programs can change every year does not help.
Starting Nov. 15 through Dec. 31, Medicare recipients have 45 days to choose a drug coverage that best suits their needs, said Angela Zeek, a paralegal and coordinator of the Bluegrass State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP).
"It's a one-time opportunity," she said. "If they don't change, they will be stuck with what they have."
Just because you have a good plan this year, doesn't mean the parameters of that plan will still be in effect next year. Some companies change the prescriptions they cover or how much of them they will cover, she said. That could cost the consumer a lot of money.
"But we are a non-profit," Zeek said of SHIP. "We give as much information as we can in order for them to make an informed decision. We provide assistance in comparing those plans."
When a beneficiary contacts her office, a representative will send a form to complete, asking for the person's Medicare information and for a list of the drugs taken on a regular basis, the dosage size and frequency, whether they are brand names or generic, and monthly cost, Zeek said.
She will load the information into a "Medicare plan-finding tool" that will determine the best plan for each individual.
"It is confusing," she said. "Competition was supposed to drive prices down, but one plan isn't exactly like another. If they can't use a computer, they should call us."
It is a free service and SHIP does not sell anything. I point that out because there are a lot of unscrupulous groups lying in wait to separate the elderly from their money.
SHIP received $702,460 from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to better educate Medicare beneficiaries. The money is to be used to conduct outreach to beneficiaries who cannot access information by computer or another source. SHIP locally is targeting recipients in Fayette, Scott, Woodford, Garrard, Lincoln, Anderson and Mercer counties.
There are three other SHIP programs in Kentucky serving other targeted areas. Call toll free, 1-866-516-3051, to get started.
Plus, SHIP has information about the "extra-help benefit" for qualified applicants, which might pay or help pay the premium for the Part D plan you select.
CMS has determined that more than 46,000 Kentuckians qualify for the supplemental help but haven't applied.
"It goes with Part D," said Mary Lou Campbell, a Medicare outreach specialist based in Lexington. "If they qualify, the program will pay for the monthly premium and deductible, and bring medication costs down to as little as $1.05 for generics and $3.25 for name brands.
"They still have to meet that same guideline," she cautioned, "but it may be worth it to look at the extra help plan to see if they can get any help at all."
In Lexington, SHIP is in the Legal Aid offices at the Black and Williams Center, 498 Georgetown Street. It's best to call first, because workers could be out talking with groups or individuals, spreading the word. The form you will need is available at the office, however, whether someone is there or not.
When you call the toll-free number you will hear a brief introduction for Legal Aid SHIP. You will then be connected with a live person, or you can leave a message.
The people at SHIP might not know much about skunks, but they can make working with the Medicare Part D drug plan a lot more pleasant.