Archive for Monday, February 13, 2006

The prescription for success

Seniors are making progress in navigating federal drug plan

February 13, 2006


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.

Lucy Wohlforth, Tonganoxie, center, enrolls in Medicare's new prescription drug program with the assistance 
of Katie Glendening, right, a community services specialist at the Douglas County Senior Center, 745 Vt.

Lucy Wohlforth, Tonganoxie, center, enrolls in Medicare's new prescription drug program with the assistance of Katie Glendening, right, a community services specialist at the Douglas County Senior Center, 745 Vt.

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.

"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.


corporate_sleaze 11 years, 11 months ago

A good portion of the problem can be attributed to a company located in the East Hills office park area. They do a lot of government contracting work and have a history of fraud. Do an Internet search with the words "fraud" and "TSA". The TSA program is/was a huge government rip-off. Now the same corporate crooks are doing the Medicare program.

frogtoad 11 years, 11 months ago

You're talking about workers at a call center trying to assist callers with information and the articles that "fraud" and "TSA" pulled up in searching speak of waste spent by Pearson as in abusing hotels, spas, etc. Those employees in a call center have nothing to do with that kind of waste. Don't place blame on hard working people trying to help others and trying to earn a wage.

From a search: "The report showed that a decision endorsed by the TSA to move the hiring process from Pearson's own facilities to 150 hotels and meeting facilities -- including luxury resorts and spas -- added $343 million to the cost of the contract, according to a Pearson estimate"

badger 11 years, 11 months ago

I think that what bothers me the most as I hear and read about the Medicare issues right now is that seniors are not able, for the most part, to navigate the system without a lot of help.

At a time in life when independence is dwindling, every time a senior has to admit that he or she can't accomplish a task independently can be difficult or painful. It's a reminder, when the process for getting something as basic as healthcare is beyond your technical capabilities, that the world is moving on without you, and that you'll be having to depend on other people more and more as time progresses - and that you'll be less and less able to care for your own needs.

It makes me sad and a little angry every time I read that seniors who are normally independent and pretty sharp are completely unable to navigate the program because it requires computer skills or knowledge they just don't have.

I hear words like 'frustration' and 'hopelessness' with regard to this process, and it makes me sad that instead of honoring our elders for their wisdom, we have systems that make them feel incompetent and incapable. That part isn't really the fault of this Administration (though many of the problems with the program are); it's the nature of American bureaucracy to complicate the system until no one but the people who administer it can navigate it successfully.

toughangel41 11 years, 11 months ago

OK here it goes... First of all: Frog thanks for coming to the defense of the East Hills Business Park. As you said they are doing their job, are very hard workers and trying to help our seniors. It is in no way possible to do the harm that many people accuse them of doing. You know, it is silly for people to actually think that Medicare hired so many employees to raise hell and cause havoc to the elderly and disabled. Think about it... I am sure the job is difficult at times and the CSR's there have felt like pulling their hair out, but because they are interested in helping the Medicare Bene's and (well and of course earning a living, let's get real.) they stick with it and do all they can to assist the people. The Medicare disenrollment program has got to be praised for the job they have done. After some misunderstanding and miscommunications from all involved (with a brand new drug plan by the way) I think the East Hills Business Park as well as Medicare are doing a fine job. So, as they do their best to help our Seniors and Disabled citizens at the East Hills Business Park and Medicare Program let's have some compassion for the hard workers and less hate and discontent towards these people... (why do I feel like I have just opened a large can of worms? :(

Jamesaust 11 years, 11 months ago

I suppose its barely worth pointing out that the taxpayer doesn't have the cash to fund this program anyway. During the last five years the federal government's liabilities have doubled to nearly $40 trillon (from $22 trillion in 2000). Sure, the first trillon dollars is easy - its all the trillons after that.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 11 years, 11 months ago

No problem. To cover the shortfall, we'll just borrow from the Chinese or all the wealthy Americans who got most of the tax cuts and don't know what else to do with all that spare change.

Jamesaust 11 years, 11 months ago

You've got the Chinese part right, bozo. All those dollars disbursed by Wal-Mart's accounts payable have to be used by the Chinese for something. Since they refuse to buy Fords, about all that is left to do is invest them in U.S. Treasury debt - the same debt that the Congress refuses to net against tax cuts (tax cuts enacted to stave off recession but now desired to be "permanent").

KsTwister 11 years, 11 months ago

The media would do well by its citizens to review the program in a year. To find out how many did not sign up and the programs that let the seniors down. But you can sugarcoat that one too if you would like.

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