Idaho Examiner - Sen. Larry Craig News Releases

Friday, November 18, 2005

Money on the Table

by Senator Larry Craig

For senior citizens in Idaho, and all across the nation, November 15, 2005, was a very important day. That was the first day seniors could enroll for prescription drug coverage under the new Medicare law Congress approved in 2003. Private companies will offer Medicare prescription drug coverage starting January 1, 2006. Now, senior citizens who use Medicare have access to a big helping hand when it comes to affording prescription drugs.

First, it’s important to note that the new prescription drug benefit is a voluntary program. Nobody will be forced to join. If you are happy with your Medicare coverage, you do not have to change a thing.

For those who choose to join, the typical person with Medicare and no drug coverage could see total drug costs drop by about 50 percent. That means real savings for many, as prescription drugs play an increasingly important role in health care.

However, I understand that many are confused by the new prescription drug benefit. Several different plans are available, and coverage differs depending on the individual. I’ve had to keep on my toes to understand it myself, but it is possible. That being said, I hope seniors will not be discouraged by the law’s complexity, because help is available.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) are working with officials and agencies at the state and local levels to ensure that there is a host of people to help seniors understand the benefit and make wise choices. CMS offers tips that will help seniors choose the prescription drug plan that best suits them.

If you are considering a prescription drug plan under Medicare, there are some things you can do to help make your choices clearer:

  • Gather information about your current coverage for health care and prescription drugs. Make sure you know what coverage you have now.
  • Gather information about the drugs you use, including their names and dosages. Think about other things that matter to you about coverage, like whether you want more protection if your drug needs change, or whether you want coverage that has a lower premium. This will help you compare plans later.
  • Contact one of the six Area Agencies on Aging. To find the area agency closest to you, visit www.idahoaging.com, or call toll-free 1-877-471-2777.
  • Contact the Idaho Department of Commerce’s Senior Health Insurance Benefit Advisors (SHIBA) at 1-800-247-4422.
Both SHIBA and the Area Agencies on Aging have dedicated staff who are trained to help seniors evaluate their needs and choose a prescription drug plan that best fits them.

If you are a senior citizen with Medicare, I encourage you to give one of these agencies a call. As the former chairman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, I am well aware of the increasing role prescription drugs play in our seniors’ lives. I am also aware of the steadily increasing costs of prescription drugs, and the ever-growing chunk it takes out of seniors’ wallets.

The good news is that help is here. If you are eligible, take advantage of Medicare’s new prescription drug coverage. Don’t leave money on the table.

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