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Paynesville Press - May 10, 2006

Deadline for Medicare Part D sign-up is next week

The deadline for seniors to sign up for prescription drug coverage from Medicare - called Medicare Part D - without penalty is Monday, May 15. Medicare Part D began on Jan. 1, 2006, and seniors were given until now to enroll without penalty.

Seniors who are eligible for the coverage, who do not have "credible" coverage, and who do not sign up face a penalty to sign up later. The permanent penalty is one percent of the monthly premium for each month deferred, meaning that someone who signs up for drug coverage in three months would have a three-percent penalty while someone who signs up three years from now would have a 36-percent penalty. In five years, that monthly premium penalty would be 60 percent; in ten years, it would be 120 percent. According to a Sunday article in the Star Tribune, 480,000 of 771,498 eligible beneficiaries in Minnesota are covered thru Medicare Part D.

"We are still working with patients and nursing home residents to explain their options," said Todd Lemke, a doctor of pharmacy (Pharm.D.) at the Paynesville Area Health Care System. "Part D has definitely decreased medication cost for the majority of seniors that previously did not have insurance or had plans that were mainly discount plans."

"My grandmother is spending about half as much (on prescription drugs)," continued Lemke. "Other people I've talked with are doing even better. People with Medical Assistance were often lost in the shuffle, and some are still trying to work through the red tape."

Seniors still weighing their options about Medicare Part D can go to to compare plans, coverage, and prices.

Seniors must know what drugs they take, and what dosages, in order to make an informed choice. One way to determine the type and amount of drugs taken is to carefully read and note the daily dosage amounts on their medicine bottles.

Seniors with questions can call either Medicare (1-800-633-4227) or the Senior Linkage (1-800-333-2433) for help. "So many Medicare beneficiaries are already benefiting from the new Medicare prescription drug benefit," said Jim Varpness, the executive director of the Minnesota Board on Aging in a press release. "Even if you are unsure of the best plan for you, don't wait to enroll and end up paying more for coverage than your friends and family. Linkage Line understands all of the options and can help you select the best one for you."

"The deadline is approaching," added Varpness. "After which, enrollees will pay a higher monthly premium for the same coverage. It is important that eligible beneficiaries explore the many options available under the Medicare prescription drug benefit and choose the plan best for them."

Seniors also can seek help from a spouse, guardian, or loved one. Or they can take to a Medicare Part D certified insurance agent. Since the federal government is backing the coverage through private insurers, all Medicare Part D coverage is through private insurance policies.

After the deadline on Monday, May 15, seniors will be locked into their drug coverage for the rest of the year. The window to change plans under Medicare Part D is from Nov. 15-Dec. 31 each year.

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