Long waits on the telephone. More than 40 plans to figure out.
Computer problems. Confusion and chaos.
Despite myriad problems that have driven many senior citizens to despair as they try to sign up for the federal prescription drug program known as Medicare Part D, there is hope. It can be done.
"We're starting to see it work itself out. It's getting better," said Annette Thornburgh, development and communications manager for Jayhawk Area Agency on Aging Inc. in Topeka.
The aging agency works with senior centers and organizations in Douglas, Jefferson and Shawnee counties in coordinating various programs, including the effort to educate seniors on Medicare D.
"This really has become a big part of our lives, and we are doing the best to help everyone," Thornburgh said.
Medicare D is the prescription drug program that allows Medicare recipients to align with a private insurance plan with the promise of lower drug costs.
At the Douglas County Senior Center, 745 Vt., seminars about Medicare D have been conducted at 10 a.m. every Monday since November. For a while they also were held on Tuesdays.
Most sessions have averaged 25 to 30 people, said Katie Glendening, counselor with Senior Health Insurance Counseling of Kansas (SHICK).
After the seminars conducted by Glendening, she and volunteers at the center sit down at a computer with seniors and help them sort through the process of enrolling in Medicare D. Instead of having to methodically read through all 41 plans offered by eight companies in Kansas, information about the types of drugs a person needs is entered in a computer and sent through a Medicare system called Plan Finder.
The computer decides on the top three plans that best meet the person's needs. That information appears on the screen and can be printed and given to the person. They can compare costs and decide whether they want to look at other programs or go ahead and enroll then. But no decisions have to be made immediately. In fact, people have until May 15 to enroll.
The program went into effect Jan. 1, and enrollment began late last year.
But things haven't gone smoothly. Here are some of the more consistent problems people have faced trying to enroll, according to the Kansas insurance commissioner's office and other agencies:
¢ People don't think they were enrolled in the right program.
¢ People find out when they visit a pharmacy to get their drugs that their names are not entered in the computer system as having been enrolled.
¢ People who are eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid have been charged deductibles and co-payments they are not supposed to be charged.
¢ One company had people enrolled in a program in another state.
¢ Many seniors don't have access to the Internet nor are they computer-savvy, and the whole system is overwhelming to them anyway, computer or no computer.
¢ Long waits on hold while calling insurance companies to ask questions.
Medicare Part D
More about Medicare Part D
- Customizing Your Health Plan
- Customizing Your Health Plan (pdf)
- Sebelius: ID rules could cause Kansans to lose health coverage
- Seniors find higher costs, more choices in Medicare drug plans (11-16-06)
- New round of Medicare headaches are possible (10-06-06)
- Medicaid paybacks may cost millions more (07-13-06)
- Enrollment deadline for drug program is set for Monday (06-18-06)
- Checkup shows Social Security, Medicare trust funds ailing (05-02-06)
- Agency prepares for last Medicare Part D sign-ups (04-27-06)
- Medicare Part D 'not as scary as it seems' (02-12-06)
- More about Medicare Part D
"There's still a lot of confusion out there," said Charlene Bailey, spokeswoman for Kansas Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger. "Once we get past the rocky road there is an impression that this will be a good thing. Not everyone is experiencing problems. A lot of people have signed up and it's working well."
But in Jefferson County, there are still many people having problems, said Lynn Luck, who heads the Jefferson County Service Organization, which works with seniors. She sees no improvement in the problems people are experiencing.
"Older people want to do what they are supposed to do," Luck said. "They want to do it right, and they can't figure it out. Some of my people have fretted about it, and their kids have fretted about it."
Case managers with Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department's Project Lively also are helping seniors figure out Medicare D, program coordinator Sandra Kelly-Allen said. Project Lively provides services to seniors 60 and older.
"A lot of the seniors I've talked to have their (prescription) cards, and it's working well," Kelly-Allen said. "It's a huge change, and there are bound to be snafus."
Here are the places where seniors can get help with Medicare D:
¢ Lawrence Senior Center, 745 Vt., 842-0543.
¢ Residential services through the Lawrence Public Housing Authority. Check with your housing complex office.
¢ Jefferson County Service Organization, 610 Del., Oskaloosa, (785) 863-2637.
¢ Jayhawk Area Agency on Aging, Inc., 1720 S.W. Topeka, Blvd., Topeka, (785) 235-1367.
¢ Kansas Insurance Commissioner, 420 S.W. Ninth St., (785) 296-3071, or (800) 432-2484.
¢ Most local pharmacies also offer some help.
Medicare forum on Thursday
Lawrence Public Library will host a forum Thursday on Medicare Part D, featuring Jeff Sigler, a Lawrence pharmacist. The 90-minute forum will begin at 2 p.m. in the library auditorium. The forum is free and open to those who have joined a plan as well as those who've not yet decided. For more information call Pattie, 843-3833.