Hot line available for isle Medicaid patients
State workers will answer questions about Medicare
The first test of the new Medicare Part D prescription drug plan will come today, when about 26,000 state residents find themselves in the program, ready or not.
A state hot line will be staffed today and tomorrow to help people who are concerned about the change or encounter a glitch in the switch.
Medicare recipients who were already getting free prescription drugs through the state-funded Medicaid program will lose that coverage as of Jan. 1.
But there are "safety nets" in place for the so-called "dual-eligible" citizens, said Lillian Koller, director of the state Department of Human Services.
The federal Medicare system has automatically assigned each of those seniors or disabled people to one of the prescription plans available in the state if they did not make the choice themselves. People who do not receive Medicaid assistance but are eligible for Medicare Plan D coverage have until May 15 to choose a prescription drug plan.
The state will pick up the tab for Medicaid clients who now face co-payments for prescriptions. The State Pharmacy Assistance Program was funded by the Legislature in the past session.
Information has been circulated for the past few months, but state officials anticipate confusion and communication problems.
The Department of Human Services will staff the hot line at (808) 524-3370 for Oahu residents and toll free for neighbor island residents, 1-800-316-8005.
Questions may also be directed to Sage PLUS, the health information branch of the state Executive Office on Aging, at 586-7299. A volunteer will return messages after the holidays. From neighbor islands, call (888) 875-9229.
"We want to assure the clients of a smooth transition," said Koller. A team led by Cookie Moon-Ng has worked for six months to administer the changes.
"The Medicare language is difficult for anyone," said Pamela Cunningham, Sage PLUS program coordinator. "For people with English as their second language, it is most challenging."
Koller said there are certain classes of drugs -- such as barbiturates used by recipients with mental illness, or anxiety and nonprescription cold remedies -- that Medicare will not cover. The state Medicaid program will cover them, but "there may be some alteration in the drugs they were accustomed to take," she said.
One message Medicaid clients need to get is that they can change from one private prescription plan to another with a month's notice. "We want them to be in a program that covers all their needs, covers the drugs they take and goes to the pharmacy they use," said Cunningham.