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About the New Medicare Drug Discount Cards…

separator If you’ve been having a hard time trying to figure out whether it’s a good idea to get one of the new Medicare prescription drug cards, you’re in the majority. In fact, you may have even reached the point where you’ve decided to do nothing about it, simply because it’s too confusing for you.

As it turns out, doing nothing about it may be a fine choice. It all depends on so many things.

The intent of the Medicare Drug Discount Cards is to help seniors with the cost of their prescriptions from June 1st, 2004 until January 1, 2006, when the completely new Medicare drug benefit will go into effect.

Quick facts
The card costs $30 to nothing, depending on whether you’re eligible for low-income credit.

There’s not one card. There are many cards, and if you decided you want one, it’s up to you to determine what kind of savings, if any, you would get from it. The cards are offered by health insurers, Medicare HMOs and pharmacy benefit managers, which all must be approved by Medicare.

If you’re in a Medicare HMO, you qualify only for that HMO’s particular card.

The discounts the cards offer vary widely, and are subject to change. This is the most confusing aspect of the plan for many people, including pharmacists and doctors.

According to the current laws, you can change your card once, at the end of 2004, so if you’re not happy with your current card, you’re not “stuck with it.”

If you already get some discounts on your current medications, there’s a chance that you wouldn’t experience much of a savings with the card.

Individuals with an annual income of $12,569 or less, and couples with an income of $16,862 or less, will be eligible for a credit of $600 a year on their cards in 2004 and 2005.

What some people are saying about it…
Linda, who’s 71 years old and takes only one prescription, for glaucoma, said, “I decided not to get a card. I only take one prescription, and I talked to doc [her pharmacist] about it, and he said I was probably doing the best thing.”

Bob, who’s 76 and takes “quite a few” prescriptions, says he doesn’t want to get a card because “it’s too confusing. I’m managing okay with the costs now, so I don’t want to mess with it. Besides, prices can change, so what’s the point?”

Ann, who, with her sisters, takes care of her 84-year-old mother and helps with expenses, says, “My mother spends $6,000.00 a year on prescriptions. I think she takes 14 pills a day, or something like that. We’ve talked with her pharmacist, and he’s confused about the cards, so he couldn’t help us much. We read a bunch of brochures, but they didn’t help much either, when you get right down to it. And her doctors are also confused. They haven’t given us any advice either. We’re all going to sit down together soon to look at everything again to see what we can figure out, because $6,000 is a lot of money and if we can get a break, it’s worth taking the time.”

Tom and Betty, married and both in their mid-70s, chose not to get the prescription card. “I didn’t need it, because I’m covered by the VA,” Tom explained. For Betty, it didn’t make much sense either. “I only take one prescription—Norvasc,” she said. “I would only have had a savings of one dollar out of every $120, so to me, it wasn’t worth applying for the card for such a small savings.” Betty was able to figure that out when she attended a talk about the cards at a local community center. “The gal there pulled up a bunch of information on her computer for me, and that’s how I knew what I would save.”

What you can do
If you haven’t made a decision yet, and are looking for help, see whether your local senior center has anybody who can help or will be sponsoring any talks about the program. They may be able to help you clear up any confusion.

If you haven’t talked with your doctor or pharmacist, give it a try. As more people get experience with the cards, pharmacists and doctors will learn more about the programs, and they may be better equipped to give you solid advice.

Talk with your friends about their experiences. With something like this, that’s brand new and seems to be evolving every day, the more you can learn from people who’ve actually tried it out, the better off you’ll be.

Source:
AARP; Medicare.gov; The New York Times, 1 June 2004.



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