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New Online Information About the Medicare Drug Benefit Available

  • September 30th, 2005

The new Medicare drug benefit takes effect January 1. Insurers can begin marketing their prescription drug plans on October 1, and beneficiaries will have six-months, beginning November 15, to enroll in a plan without facing financial penalties. In anticipation of these dates, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has released a flood of online information about the drug benefit program.

First, CMS has announced the names of companies that have been approved to offer prescription drug coverage to Medicare beneficiaries. Ten companies will offer stand-alone prescription drug plans through Medicare on a nationwide basis, in addition to companies offering a variety of regional and statewide plans. Beneficiaries in all states will be able to choose among at least 11 plans, and populous states like New York and Texas will have a choice of as many as 20 plans. (These totals do not include prescription drug coverage that will be offered through Medicare Advantage plans.)

The 10 companies that will offer beneficiaries stand-alone prescription drug coverage nationally are: Aetna; Cigna; Coventry Health Care; Medco Health Solutions; MemberHealth; PacifiCare Health Systems; Silverscript (a unit of Caremark); UniCare (a subsidiary of WellPoint); UnitedHealth Group; and WellCare Health Plans.

To find out which companies will be offering drug plans in your state, go to: http://www.cms.hhs.gov/map/map.asp

To help Medicare beneficiaries determine how much they will save if they sign up for the drug benefit, CMS has also posted its Medicare Prescription Drug Plan Cost Estimator online at http://www.medicare.gov/medicarereform/MPDP_Cost_Estimator.asp The estimator gives results that appear to exaggerate potential savings under the drug benefit, at least compared with a similar online tool offered by AARP. Some, but by no means all, of the difference is due to the fact that the CMS tool assumes beneficiaries will pick a plan with the lowest premium in a state, while AARP's tool assumes a premium of $35, which is close to the predicted average premium.

However, the monthly premium is not the only factor to consider in choosing a drug plan. For ElderLawAnswers' new checklist on choosing a drug plan, click here.

Another resource from CMS, the 2006 Medicare & You Handbook, is now available online in PDF format at http://www.medicare.gov/publications/pubs/pdf/10050.pdf The Handbook has a section on the Medicare prescription drug benefit. A hard copy of the 2006 Medicare & You Handbook will be mailed to all Medicare beneficiaries in October. Alert: the hard copy version of Medicare and You contains some incorrect information. For details, click here.

Also now available online from CMS are:

For general information about the new Medicare drug benefit, click here.

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Margaret O'Reilly

Margaret A. O'Reilly, PC
Herndon, VA

Last Modified: 09/30/2005

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