Help available as drug plan sign-up deadline looms
About 20,000 seniors have until May 15 to choose which Medicare plan to join
An estimated 20,000 seniors have only until May 15 to sign up for Medicare's prescription drug plan.
Those who miss that deadline will not be able to choose a plan until November and will have to pay a penalty of 1 percent per month for their premium.
Plenty of help is available for those who have not signed up because they are still confused about the complicated drug program, says Pamela Cunningham, coordinator of Sage PLUS, the health information arm of the Executive Office on Aging.
Sage PLUS has scheduled a series of meetings statewide to help people compare and enroll in a plan, and is encouraging Medicare beneficiaries to sign up the first week of May to avoid a last-minute crush.
Medicare's 800 lines and Sage PLUS' lines might be busy, she said, "so we want people to do it as early as they can."
People who go to the meetings should take a list of their present medications, dosage and strength (for example, Lipitor, 5 mg, 30 pills per month).
Hawaii has 186,000 Medicare beneficiaries, but 140,000 have drug coverage as good as Medicare is offering because they are still working or have federal or state retirement benefits.
The 140,000 does not take into account unions with drug coverage, so the figure could be higher, Cunningham said.
That leaves an estimated 30,000 who need to make a decision about a Medicare plan, and only a little more than 10,000 have enrolled in individual plans, she said.
The state Department of Human Services is continuing a contingency plan it began in January to cover residents with both Medicare and Medicaid who run into problems at the pharmacies, Director Lillian Koller said.
"As long as they identify themselves as being in Medicaid, we will not only pay the co-pay, but pay for the drug," she said.
The so-called "dual eligible" group was shifted from Medicaid to the Medicare drug program Jan. 1. Those who did not choose a Medicare plan were automatically assigned to one by the federal government.
Fewer problems are occurring, Koller said, "but to an individual elderly, disabled person showing up to get drugs and told they're not in the system, that's everything to them. ... We want to minimize the disruption with the contingency plan until the transition is perfect."
Cunningham said Sage PLUS volunteers are "talking to many, many people every day who actually take no drugs at all," such as the 99-year-old mother of a friend.
But even healthy people taking no medicine are encouraged to sign up for a Medicare drug plan.
"Get the least expensive plan available for some kind of coverage in case something catastrophic happens," Cunningham advised.
She said people who are not taking any medicine might be waiting until Tuesday to sign up because the plan would go into effect June 1, and they would not have had to pay premiums since Jan. 1.
For help with Medicare's prescription drug plans, call:
» Sage PLUS: 586-7299 or toll-free from the neighbor islands, 888-875-9229.
» Medicare toll-free hot line: 800-MEDICARE (633-4227) or TTY 887-486-2408.
» AARP: 888-687-2277 or TTY 877-434-7598.
On the Net:www.medicare.gov
Sage PLUS meetings to help seniors compare Medicare drug plans and enroll are scheduled as follows:
» Today and Thursday, 8 a.m. to noon, Leeward Community College computer lab
» Tomorrow, 9 a.m. to noon, Waikiki Community Center
» Friday, 9 a.m. to noon, Community Church of Honolulu (2345 Nuuanu Ave.)
» Monday, 9 a.m. to noon, Filipino Community Center (FilCom), 94-428 Mokuola St., Waipahu
Through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Kauai Agency for Elderly Affairs, 808-241-4470
Thursday, 1 to 4 p.m., Maui Community College Computer Lab