Seniors prepare for Medicare changes: New prescription drug programs on tap beginning next year | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Seniors prepare for Medicare changes: New prescription drug programs on tap beginning next year

Susan Wood

Jim Grant / Tahoe Daily Tribune / Jill Ingram, left, and Dee Grimm discuss Medicare's new coverage for prescription drugs with seniors at the Douglas County Senior Center Thursday morning.

In October, the federal government will send mailers to seniors highlighting the Medicare prescription drug rules that go into effect Jan. 1.

The amendment to the government’s insurance program for the elderly became the topic of discussion Thursday at the Tahoe Douglas Senior Center.

“Be proactive” was the underlying message Dee Grimm of Reno’s Area Health Education Council provided the 20 seniors asking questions about the plan. Grimm and Jill Ingram of the Social Security Administration office in Reno will give the talks to 55 senior centers in Northern Nevada. Douglas County’s was the fifth such visit.

“The reason we’re talking to you now is you’re going to get stuff on this pretty soon,” Grimm said.

More than 44,000 applications have been sent out from the Reno Social Security office.

“Until my insurance company tells me what’s covered, I’ll have to wait,” Gladys Paulson of Cave Rock told the Tahoe Daily Tribune after the talk. She holds a retirement policy through Bethlehem Steel to supplement her health care needs.

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Ingram advised finding out ahead of time whether participating in the government’s prescription drug nullifies parts of a policyholder’s other plan.

“One of our biggest concerns is we have people with plans from unions and packages with retirement plans. You need to read into this. If you pull out one (benefit), it may void the rest of the package,” Ingram said.

The conventional wisdom caught the attention of the attendees.

Grimm warned the prescription drug plan doesn’t cover every drug.

“Your doctor needs to write why you’re getting the medication,” she said.

For instance, some anti-anxiety medications can be used for calming nerves. This use may be not as quickly covered as taking the drug to alleviate seizures.

The prescription drug plan includes those on Medicare or permanent disability benefits. Those with Medicare and full Medicaid coverage with individual annual incomes below $9,570 or $12,830 per married couple will not have to pay a premium.

Recipients on the Medicare plan A or B may sign up for the prescription drug plan between Nov. 15 and May 15, 2006. If one joins, the monthly premium runs about $37 with an annual deductible of up to $250. There’s a shared cost – which will vary depending on what drug plan is chosen.

“You have to consider where the prescription drugs will take you, too. You need to look at the drugs you want. With some, you don’t just run down to the local Wal-Mart,” Grimm said. “Remember, this is still an evolving situation.”

More information may be obtained by visiting http://www.medicare.gov or 800-MEDICARE.