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Paynesville Press - June 2, 2004

Senior citizens learn about Medicare drug cards

By Kayla Welle

Alarmed by the rising cost of prescription drugs, over 50 local senior citizens attended an informational meeting about a new Medicare program last week at the Paynesville Area Center.

One senior reported spending over $800 per month on prescription drugs, illustrating the problem.

Senior citizens and concerned community members met last week regarding the new drug prescription cards offered by Medicare with guest speaker Karla Krueger, an attorney specializing in the "Senior Law Project," and local pharmacist Bert Stanley of Corner Drug.

The Medicare Prescription Drug Improvement and Modernization Act of 2003 was signed into law in December 2003 by President George Bush. It was designed to improve health care and prescription benefits for people who are 65 and older and people with certain disabilities. The full law goes into effect on January 1, 2006, but until then, Medicare has come up with a prescription drug card that could help seniors finance prescription drugs.

Enrollment in the drug card plan started in May 2004 with the cards becoming effective in June. The card program will last until December 2005.

The new drug cards are a way of offering financial assistance on prescription drugs. There are 49 Medicare-approved drug cards, and every company's card has a list of prescription drugs that it sponsors.

Only one card is allowed at a time, so a person taking many different drugs is advised to pick the card that supports their most expensive drug or gets the biggest discount.

Also, companies may or may not charge an annual fee on these drug cards. According to Stanley, some companies may not charge anything but the most a company can charge is $30 per year.

A downfall of the plan is that these companies can remove any drug from their list whenever they feel it is necessary. So, if you buy a card with a drug on it, the company is entitled to remove that drug from their list for any reason.

Also, the cards will only be in effect for a year and a half with only six months in 2004.

According to Krueger, the new cards will be available to anyone that is currently on part A or B of Medicare, but excludes people who receive drug coverage through Medicaid, group health insurance, or TRICARE.

The cards will, in theory, offer 10-25 percent reduction on brand name prescription drugs and a 30-40 percent reduction on generic drugs.

Some people may be eligible for a $600 credit, Krueger stated, depending on monthly income. If your monthly income is no more than $1,047 (single) or $1,404 (married), you will pay only ten percent of the discounted drug price while the rest is covered by the credit. If you make no more than $776 (single) or $1,040 (married) you will pay only five percent of the discounted drug price.

For example, if you purchase a brand name drug for $100 the card alone would give you, say, a 20 percent discount, lowering the price to $80. Then, if you are eligible for the lower income credit, you would only have to pay five or ten percent of $80, with the credit covering the rest (until the $600 is used up).

People who exceed these income brackets will be eligible for the card, but not for the $600 credit.

At Corner Drug, Stanley said they have two main companies (out of 49 available) that they really promote. These companies, he said, will not remove drugs from their card. Corner Drug will be signing up with more companies, but they will wait until more information is known.

Stanley's advice is that if you have a plan, don't switch over to the card. There are too many unanswered questions at this stage of the new law.

Questions can be answered and price comparisons can be obtained by going to or calling 1-800-MEDICARE.

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