Archive for Thursday, April 27, 2006

Agency prepares for last Medicare Part D sign-ups

April 27, 2006

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In Douglas County, more than 5,800 senior citizens have signed up for Medicare Part D.

But almost 4,300 have not.

"We'd like to have more people knocking on our doors, but that's not happening," said Annette Thornburgh, director of development and communications at Jayhawk Area Agency on Aging. "We have a lot, but we could have more."

That may soon change, she said. Senior citizens have less than three weeks to sign up for Medicare Part D.

Those who wait until after May 15 - three Mondays from now - will be subject to higher premiums, and their coverage won't begin until Jan. 1.

In Lawrence, Aging officials are gearing up for a wave of last-minute applicants.

"We're in the enrollment phase," said Katie Glendening, a community services assistant at Douglas County Senior Services, 745 Vt.

"We're past the informational phase," she said. "People want to get it done."

Senior Services offers regular counseling and sign-up sessions:

¢ 10 a.m. to noon Mondays.

¢ 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays.

"We've also added a Saturday session, 9 a.m. to noon on May 6," Glendening said.

In the past, Senior Services workers and volunteers helped seniors figure out which of the 41 plans would best meet their needs. But the actual enrollment was left up to the seniors or their sons or daughters.

That's changed.

"There was a lot of concern early on that people might be steered - or that it might look like they were being steered - into one plan or another, so the actual sign-up was left up to them," Glendening said. "We're past that now; we're signing people up."

Early on, she said, most seniors signed up for one of the plans offered by Humana, a national company that aligned itself with Wal-Mart.

This, too, has changed.

"We're hearing from a lot of people who say they don't want Humana because they've talked to their pharmacists," Glendening said, "and their pharmacists are telling them Humana's rates are too low.

"They don't want to see their pharmacist go out of business," she said.

Humana premiums - less than $10 per month - are the lowest of any of the plans. So are Humana's payments to independent pharmacies.

In Lawrence, independent pharmacies have let their customers know they may not be able to accept Humana if the rates paid to pharmacies didn't improve.

"I'm not telling my Humana customers we're going to drop them; they have enough to worry about without hearing that," said Mark Smith, pharmacist at Orchards Drug, 1410 Kasold Drive.

"But I am encouraging them to switch plans in 2007 - to anybody but Humana, essentially," Smith said.

Though the Medicare Part D application process has been difficult, Smith said, it has helped those who have persevered.

It's been a boon to 59-year-old Jennifer Morris.

"The medicine I take for my lungs used to cost me somewhere in the neighborhood of $135 to $185 a month," said Morris, who lives in Lawrence. "It costs me $5 a month now."

A month's supply of a generic drug she takes for her sciatica cost $147 before Medicare Part D.

"I pay $5 for it, too," she said.

Morris said her Medicare Part D plan was through WellCare.

"This has been a godsend for me," she said, "and the people at the senior center (Senior Services) did a great job in helping me sign up."

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