Seniors seeking drug-plan help
By Tom Corwin| Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The calls never seem to stop for Cindy Pruitt at the CSRA Regional Development Center Area Agency on Aging.

"You hang up the phone and there's someone right behind that," said Mrs. Pruitt, the GeorgiaCares coordinator at the Augusta agency.

The calls are from senior citizens wanting help to enroll in the prescription drug program known as Medicare Part D. Nearly a month after enrollment began, the calls are still flooding in, officials said.

GeorgiaCares, which is helping with enrollment statewide, logged 31,000 calls last month and had gotten 9,000 so far in December before Monday, said Jennie Deese, the director of GeorgiaCares.

"I knew that our call volume would increase because we have a million beneficiaries in the state that are needing to make these important decisions this year as to whether or not they're going to take a Part D plan," she said. Not everyone will need to.

For instance, those covered by TriCare for Life and some federal retirees might want to stick with the benefits they have, Mrs. Deese said. Others, such as the State Health Benefit Plan retirees, are in a much different boat. Those who do sign up for a Part D prescription drug plan get a $32.20 decrease in monthly premiums; those who don't face a $64.40 increase.

"We've been aggressively working to get those folks informed that they do need to take a Part D benefit," Mrs. Deese said. "It's very advantageous for those individuals to take the plan."

The word is still filtering down to some that they need to do so by Dec. 31 to avoid that increase. Mrs. Deese said she spoke with a state retiree Monday who had heard about it at church. State retirees also should be careful that they chose the prescription-only plan and not one of the Medicare Advantage plans that are more extensive and work like an HMO or PPO.

"If they sign up for one of the Medicare Advantage plans, they lose their state health benefits," Mrs. Deese said.

Others, who because of their income get help paying Medicare premiums now, might want to wait until later in the enrollment period, which runs through May 15, she said. This is particularly true for those who are healthy and not taking medications, she said.

"It's best for them to wait until May to enroll in a plan because that way they'll save 4 months of premiums," Mrs. Deese said.

For those who don't want to wait, the Augusta agency is there to answer questions. It already has helped 711 people, Mrs. Pruitt said.

"We welcome their calls, but it's still backlogged," she said. "We're doing the best we can with the employees and the volunteer we have to catch up. It's not been easy."

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or tom.corwin@augustachronicle.com.

Medicare Part D

Enrollment in Medicare Part D, the prescription drug coverage program, has begun. For a guide to Medicare's prescription drug benefit, visit augustachronicle.com/rd/medicare. Call (800) MEDICARE (633-4227) or visit www.medicare.gov. Initial enrollment goes through May 15. Coverage begins Jan. 1. Reach CSRA Regional Development Center Area Agency on Aging at (706) 210-2029 or (800) 669-8387.

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