Maneuvering the Medicare drug maze

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Modern medicine is one of the success stories of the 21st century, and medications are the treatment of choice. Symptoms of many maladies which once required surgery or were untreatable can now be improved through modern drugs.

Read modern, expensive drugs, which many older Americans are unable to afford.

That is supposed to improve, however, with the implementation of Medicare's new drug benefit, which goes into effect Jan. 1.

Dozens of companies are offering Medicare drug benefits, but no one can actually sign up before Nov. 15, so if you will be eligible, there is still time to educate yourself to make a wise decision.

Here are some steps you can take:

* Make a list of the prescription drugs you use, determine how much you spend each year on drugs, and if you have insurance coverage, how much you pay for that.

* Decide which pharmacy you want to use.

* If you need help log on to http://www.medicare.gov or have a computer-savvy friend or relative help you use Medicare's online comparison tool. Or, call 1 (800) Medicare.

* After your prescriptions and preferred pharmacies are entered into the comparison tool, called the "Plan Finder," the computer program will give you a list of options that will work for your prescriptions and pharmacies.

* Figure out which one works best for your budget, by comparing premiums, copayments and deductibles.

* Sign up during the enrollment period, Nov. 15 through May 15. Benefits begin Jan. 1.

Of course, as with any new system involving vast amounts of money, there are plenty of opportunities for fraud.

To avoid becoming a victim, the AARP offers the following do's and don'ts:

* Don't pay anyone a fee to enroll.

* Do be wary of anyone coming door-to-door selling offers on drug coverage.

* Don't give out sensitive information such as Social Security or Medicare, bank or credit card numbers to anyone who calls and asks for them.

* Don't believe claims of free coverage. Most legitimate plans have premiums, co-payments or deductibles. In certain cases, however, those on limited incomes may be able to get some financial help.

* Don't go by yourself to meet a salesperson. Take along a friend or family member.

* Don't make payments online. You can enroll online, but plans cannot collect payments on the Internet.

* Use trustworthy sources for your information.

More information will be available in a new booklet, "Medicare & You 2006," which Medicare will be sending out sometime this month.

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