Medicare Part D will provide prescription drug insurance to seniors beginning January 1, 2006 -- to everyone who signs up and pays his or her monthly premium, that is.
American Association of Retired Persons Arizona president Ritch Stevens will be at the community room of the Payson Public Library from 9:30 a.m. to 11:15 a.m. on Wednesday Nov. 2 to speak and answer questions about Part D.
"AARP wants all seniors who are eligible, or near eligibility, to explore all the options," said Dr. Virginia Creager, volunteer advocate for the AARP. "We want people to know that there is a limited income assistance program for Arizona."
Medicare Part D is a voluntary plan. The burden is on the individual to sign up. Participants who are already enrolled in Medicare will have from Nov. 15, 2005 until May 15, 2006 to choose a prescription insurance company and plan, then sign up for coverage.
People who are not yet eligible for Medicare, but will become eligible in or after March 2006, will be able to enroll in Part D during their initial enrollment period, from three months before and three months after the month they become eligible for Medicare.
There is a 1 percent penalty per month that compounds if a person doesn't sign up at his or her earliest opportunity.
Some people who are already on Medicare may have received packets in the mail. Currently, at least 18 insurance companies offer coverage and that coverage varies.
"Do your homework," is Creager's advice to seniors, caregivers and family members.
Each company's plan may cover a different variety of drugs; have a different co-pay; a different monthly premium; and restrictions on pharmacies. Some may provide members coverage when they are at home, but not when traveling.
"I've heard that the anticipated monthly cost will be $20 to $35," Creager said.
"Another thing I think seniors need to know is that coverage may not stay the same from year to year," Creager said. "We all have to kind of take baby steps and AARP is urging everybody to take the time to study the options."
AARP advises: talk to your doctor, ask if your health is improving, steady or declining. Talk to your pharmacist. Consult your family. Speak with your financial adviser.
Arizona will assist its limited income residents in affording a prescription drug plan. There are four levels at which a single person or a couple may qualify for the assistance. Three have no annual deductible or monthly premium; the fourth has an annual deductible of $50 and a 15 percent co-pay per prescription. (See the chart accompanying this article for full details.)
People who attend the Nov. 2 meeting will be given AARP's Medicare Part D booklet. There will be ample time for questions and answers. The meeting is to inform people about the program, not sign people up. AARP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization.
Who to call
For more information on Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage:
State Health Assistance Program, Arizona Hotline 1-800-432-4040
Medicare, 1-800-633-4227 and www.medicare.gov
AARP, 1-888-687-2277 and www.aarp.org
Social Security Administration, 1-800-772-1213 and www.ssa.gov