Medicare prescription signups slow

By Sen. Pete Domenici: Guest Column

The May 15 deadline for signing up for Medicare prescription drug benefits is quickly approaching and there are still thousands of New Mexicans, particularly low-income residents, who have not signed up.

Because we built in extra compensations to help poor seniors, I strongly encourage them to act now to sign up to receive the maximum benefits.

The Medicare prescription drug plan is just three months old, but in that short time more than 175,000 New Mexicans have already signed up for prescription drug coverage and are enjoying significant savings in their drug costs. But everyone with Medicare is entitled to participate in this new benefit that helps pay for prescription drugs, so that means many more are eligible.

Unfortunately, the federal agency that runs Medicare and Medicaid Services reports that millions of people nationwide who qualify for the low-income benefits have not applied for them.

It is believed that is due to educational and language barriers. It is vital that family members, friends, and community organizations reach out to these individuals and help them. These people are the ones who need this assistance the most and will receive the most benefits from this program.

Medicare will pay nearly all of the drug bills for low-income beneficiaries and disabled Americans. Millions of people with Medicare are eligible to join a Medicare drug plan without premiums, deductibles, or gaps in coverage. On average, Medicare will pay for more than 95 percent of the costs of prescription drugs for people who qualify for this extra financial help. There is no cost or obligation to apply for extra help so anyone who thinks they may qualify should apply.

The critical point now is that beneficiaries must sign up before May 15 to receive the best benefits at the lowest cost under the Medicare prescription drug benefit.

There are many resources available to assist New Mexicans in choosing and enrolling in a plan. Eligible beneficiaries can sign up online, over the phone, or directly with plans. Medicare beneficiaries and their family members with questions about Medicare drug coverage can call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227) or visit

http://www.medicare.gov

Assistance can also be obtained in your local community from partner organizations including pharmacists, senior centers, and groups like the AARP.

Last fall, millions of applications for financial assistance were mailed to many low-income seniors and Americans with disabilities. For beneficiaries who did not receive an application but think they may qualify, applications for financial assistance are available at many pharmacies, or through the Social Security Administration. People can also apply for financial assistance online at
www.socialsecurity.gov
or by calling 1-800-772-1213 or by visiting any Social Security office.

The new program is working well for most beneficiaries, and early challenges are being corrected. I believe it is worth the effort for seniors and other beneficiaries — particularly those with low-incomes — to enroll by May 15 for the benefits that are already being enjoyed by tens of thousands of New Mexicans. I encourage them to enroll now and not miss this opportunity to save money on prescription drugs.

Pete Domenici, R-N.M., is a U.S. senator. Contact him at (202) 224-6621 or through his Web site at:

http://domenici.senate.gov/