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Seniors Get A Second Look At New Medicare Drug Plan



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Seniors Get A Second Look At New Medicare Drug Plan

By Nancy K. Crevier

Confusion reigned supreme once again at the Newtown Senior Center Tuesday afternoon, November 29, as Eric Freedman from the Western Connecticut Area Agency on Aging (WCAAA) prepared to present new information on the Medicare Part D prescription drug plan. Despite having gone to previous presentations, many of the 100-plus people present still had the same concerns they had earlier in the year.

“Confusing,” and “depressing,” were among the adjectives used to describe the sign-up for the drug plan that was supposed to bring relief to seniors across the nation.

“My husband alone spends $7,000 a year [on prescription drugs],” said Irene Scosta of Sandy Hook. “I feel they [Medicare] could have done a better job. Kept it simple. What if in the future we take different drugs? Is it in the plan we pick? It’s too complicated for everyone.”

Ms Scosta’s concerns are valid, although Mr Freedman explained that each year, from November 15 to December 31, seniors will have the option of selecting a new plan that better suits their needs. It could mean, though, that a new drug prescribed in February of a year and not covered by the selected plan has to be paid for out of pocket until the November plan change date rolls around.

Gaps such as this and the “doughnut hole,” a portion of the new plan in which the cost of drugs each year between $2,250 and $5,100 will be paid out of pocket by the plan holder before the drug plan kicks in again, create anxiety for some seniors.

“I don’t think it’s going to help us,” worries Hazel Wilson of Newtown. “Both of us will reach that gap. It’s a huge concern.”

The apprehensions of the elderly were understandable, said Mr Freedman, but he stressed that there were many agencies available to offer help in selecting a plan.

“The program is about you choosing and choosing responsibly,” he stated. “I’m here to tell you how we at the agency [WCAAA] can simplify your choice, provide you with information, and give you assistance about enrollment in the Medicare prescription drug coverage plan.”

Both Mr Freedman and Joann Klopfenstein from Newtown Department of Social Services, who was also present, urged seniors to take their time in selecting a plan. “Enrollment is from November 15 to May 15,” Mr Freedman said. “Don’t rush into making a choice.”

Ms Klopfenstein also warned seniors not to be swayed by star-studded TV commercials and mailings by individual plan providers they might receive. “It’s not an easy way to sign up and it might not fit your needs. Don’t sign up just because a star tells you to.”

While many of the questions Mr Freedman fielded following his presentation were ones answered at previous workshops, the Tuesday afternoon session provided attendees with a copy of Medicare and You, that lists all of the plans and the options available in Connecticut: that would be a total of 61 plans with premiums ranging from $7.32 to $65.58, each offering a different “formulary” of drugs.

So where will seniors get help in sorting out the various plans? The WCAAA personal information form, available at the Senior Center, can be mailed directly to the agency, although Mr Freedman warned that a recent deluge of forms is delaying immediate attention. “We will do our best,” he said, “but to sign up for a plan it’s easy enough to contact the [drug plan] sponsor directly.” He also recommended signing up online. “To compare plans, you can go to www.medicare.gov or call 800-MEDICARE,” said Mr Freedman, getting his only laugh of the day when he added that calling just might mean a long, long wait.

Marilyn Place, director of the Senior Center, said that seniors can call the center at 270-4310 to set up an appointment. Two computers are available for use in enrollment, and center employees are on hand to offer assistance to the less computer savvy. Informational pamphlets about Medicare Part D prescription drug plan and personal information forms are also available at the Senior Center.

Newtown seniors can find assistance at the Newtown Department of Social Services at Town Hall South. Call Ann Puccini or Joann Klopfenstein at 270-4330 to make an appointment.

Those who attended the Tuesday presentation may have left with questions still, but said Ms Place, “That’s okay, as long as they understand they didn’t have to sign up November 15. There were a lot of new faces here, and I think they felt better when they left. I’m telling them, ‘Don’t panic, everything will fall into place.’ They have time.”

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