18 potentially confusing options for state’s new Medicare benefits | TahoeDailyTribune.com

18 potentially confusing options for state’s new Medicare benefits

Kathleen Hennessey

LAS VEGAS (AP) – Trying to head off confusion about the new Medicare prescription drug benefit, Nevada health officials on Monday announced an outreach campaign aimed at helping senior citizens and the disabled navigate the massive federal program.

Starting Jan. 1, Medicare will offer discount plans intended to help recipients cover the cost of prescription drugs. In Nevada, 18 plans will be offered.

Health officials urged Medicare recipients to research the program carefully.

“There are a lot of options for the beneficiaries to chose from. Rather than the government dictating ‘thou shall have this option,’ this allows them to pick the program that’s best for them,” said Health and Human Services regional director Calise Munoz. “It’s not overwhelming, but they do need to make some choices.”

Enrollment for the new benefit, which some have criticized as too complicated, runs Nov. 15 to May 15.

Munoz announced the formation of the Nevada Medicare Rx Access Network, a group of state officials and local health groups trying to educate doctors, seniors and the disabled about the program.

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The network will host four workshops in Las Vegas in which recipients can question Medicare counselors. State health officials have set up a hot line to answer questions.

Larry Matheis, executive director of the Nevada State Medical Association, said his group is working to ensure doctors understand the program.

“We want the physician to be as comfortable with the subject as possible and recommend that someone in the practice be able to sit down and help the patient sort through it,” he said.

The Medicare Web site allows people to plug in such information as the prescription drugs they take and how much of a monthly premium or deductible they would be willing to pay. The Web site program will then sort through the available plans and list those that fit the criteria best. Estimates of annual cost are also included.

People who don’t feel comfortable with computers can call 1-800-Medicare, and a counselor will help them with the same evaluation, Munoz said.

All 270,000 of Nevada’s Medicare recipients are eligible for one of the discount plans. A smaller number qualify for a low-income program that gives additional assistance to couples earning less than $19,300 and a single person earning less than $14,300.

The average Medicare beneficiary can expect to save about 50 percent on prescription drug expenses, the Bush administration predicts. The cost to the federal government of subsidizing that coverage is estimated at $720 billion over 10 years.