Part D open enrollment is nearing deadline

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 24, 2006

By Adam Hammer, staff writer

Open enrollment for Medicare Part D is nearing its close, but there is still time left to get signed up before facing additional charges.

Enrollment for Part D began in November and is open until May 15. Coverage began Jan. 1.

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Premiums after May 15 will go up 1 percent per month for every month delayed.

&8220;If someone waited five years to sign up, it could add up to 65 percent higher premiums,&8221; Bev Johnson, patient advocate at Albert Lea Medical Center’s Patient Education Center, said.

There is an exception to the premium increase after May for creditable coverage. Creditable coverage includes other coverage that is at least as good as or equal to value as Part D. Some are retiree coverage such as VA, Federal Employee and TriCare coverage.

Plans must tell their enrollees if the coverage is creditable.

Part D relates to the prescription portion of Medicare and is different from the previous plans such as Part B.

&8220;One thing is Part D is an opt-in,&8221; Johnson said. &8220;That’s where a lot of the confusion is coming from. There are too many choices.&8221;

Financial assistance is available for people with lower incomes for premium, deductible and co-pays.

Part D is available to anyone on Medicare and is provided through many private prescription plans approved by Medicare.

The Part D plan came about with the shift from the states coverage to the federal government consistent with the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003.

The education center’s approach to understanding Part D is to look at it as insurance and leave the politics out of it, Johnson said.

At the education center, a patient’s prescription information is entered into a database that searches for coverage plans that will best suit them. The most important aspect is to make sure all of a patient’s prescriptions are covered under one plan.

&8220;Each plan is individualized per person,&8221; Johnson said. &8220;We want to make sure all prescriptions are covered no matter what plans they choose.&8221;

For patients on Medicare, there are 58 different plans that are Medicare approved.

The database will allow patients to see what is on each plan’s formulary. The formulary is the list of prescriptions covered by a particular plan.

Standard benefits of Part D include a monthly premium of approximately $32, annual deductible of $250 and co-insurance.

For people who need help understanding Part D or assistance signing up, the Patient Education Center at ALMC is an available outlet.

&8220;It’s about breaking it out and making it plain and simple to understand,&8221; Johnson said.

Johnson recommends bringing a family member along to the consultation for a second opinion.

Assistance through the education center is free and open to the public. Appointments are not required, but are preferred. Call Johnson at 379-2046 for appointments.

There is also assistance available through the Minnesota Senior LinkAge Line at 1-800-333-2433. Specialists are available statewide to provide information and assistance on Part D.