June 24, 2004

Seniors Must Sort Through Medicare Discount Prescription Drug Cards

Having a few options is one thing, but faced with more than 40 different choices, senior citizens are finding the new Medicare prescription drug cards to be a bit confusing. Add in the fear of the typical governmental paperwork and it is no wonder that only a small percentage of Scotland County residents have taken advantage of the card since it began June 1.

But it doesn’t have to be that complicated. Denise Clemonds, executive director of the Missouri Association of Homes for the Aging, encourages local seniors to take the time to apply for the new benefit that can save the customer an average of 20-percent on some prescription drugs.

Basically all individuals that are eligible for Medicare are eligible for the new prescription discount cards. Only those who already qualify for Medicaid prescription drug benefits are excluded from the program. Some restrictions apply for recipients of military or federal

The privately issued cards offer discounts on a number of prescription drugs. Medicare has contracted with private businesses to provide the service. Some of the programs are sponsored by drug companies while others are provided by organizations such as AARP. There is an annual enrollment fee that typically runs no more than $30. Customers may only own one card, but do not have to own one as the program is optional.

Customers whose income falls within federal poverty level guidelines receive an annual drug credit. Individuals that have an income of less than $12,564 a year for one person, or $16,862 for a married couple, may qualify for up to $600 to help pay for prescription drugs in 2004 and again in 2005. There is a 10-percent copay on prescription drugs but there is no cost for the card.

The discount card is the first of two stages of a new Medicare plan. The card is temporary and will be phased out in 2006 when the second step, a Medicare drug benefit, takes effect.

“If you decide to get a Medicare-approved discount card from a private company, you may pay less for your prescription drugs than you do now.,” the AARP has stated. “Discounts will vary by card, and each plan will be slightly different. For example, some cards can only be used at certain pharmacies.”

The easiest way for individuals to determine the best card for them is through the Medicare office. Individuals can call 1-800-MEDICARE or may visit the organizations website at www.medicare.gov. The website provides cost comparisons for the different Medicare cards and also discusses eligibility requirements.

Clemonds encouraged interested parties to do their homework prior to contacting Medicare for assistance. That means preparing a list of all prescription drugs being taken as well as dosage amounts, frequency as well as cost being paid each month for each type of drug.

“If you have all this information when you call Medicare, the counselor on the phone will only have to ask you five or six questions to determine the best options for you and then they will mail you the information pertaining to the best card for you,” Clemonds said. “So it is best if you get the information together prior to your call to make the process as quick as possible.”

The procedure simply is a comparison of the available cards that best meet the customers needs.

“Say you take seven different prescription drugs,” Clemonds stated. “One card may offer a 20-percent savings on four of those drugs while another offers a 30 percent savings on three of those prescriptions. What the counselor does is compare the savings offered for each specific customer to recommend the best savings for that particular customer.”

Clemonds warned consumers to do the math. She pointed out that 20 percent off of the more expensive prescription drug can ultimately be a larger savings than 30 percent discount on the cheaper drugs.

Another consideration is where the cards may be used. Some are only good in certain regions while others are valid nation wide. Clemonds pointed out that this can be an issue for individuals that travel frequently or winter in a different locale.

The bottom line is, a Medicare prescription drug card can save the customer money. The are plenty of options, with each card offering different savings on different prescription drugs. So shop around by figuring out which card will offer the individual customer the most savings on their prescriptions.

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