This is a reminder that there are only 17 days until the registration period for the Medicare Part D prescription drug program ends on 15 May after which there is a penalty of one percent per month in the cost of the premium.
Asked recently about the reason for the deadline and penalty, Health and Human Services secretary Michael Leavitt said, "If we don't have a deadline, fewer people will sign up." That's just nonsense particularly given the large number and complexity of the programs offered in each state.
Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon and Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine have asked Mr. Leavitt to extend the 15 May deadline, but it is unlikely he will do so.
Part D is a poorly conceived and poorly executed program that benefits the big pharmas far more than elders. But if you do not have other prescription drug coverage and depending on your drug needs it is better, for now, than nothing.
Following the Boy Scout admonition to be prepared, here are some of the many problems you may encounter:
- As the deadline approaches, telephone lines are busy so wait time to speak with a provider to sign up are lengthy
- The government has failed to withhold Part D premiums from some Social Security checks as requested by beneficiaries resulting in dunning letters from providers with threats to cancel service
- In other cases, Social Security computers have withheld three and four months worth of premiums from one Social Security check
- Some insurers demand payment of four months’ premiums at once
- Some insurers have not provided accurate lists of drugs covered and federal officials have warned of “bait and switch” tactics by some carriers
- Some carriers fail to disclose the limitations on drugs they cover such as quantity of pills per prescription or requiring doctors to get advance approval
[There is more information on Part D problems in this New York Times story.]
It’s not much of drug program, is it? But nothing will change between now and the 15 May deadline, so if you have been postponing enrollment only because the difficulties of choosing a carrier are daunting, it’s time to get it done.
You can find the approved programs in your state at the Medicare website. Good luck. As former president Bill Clinton used to say, I feel your pain. I thought I'd signed up five weeks ago, but now my application is lost in a bureaucratic maze at the provider and is "being investigated."
THIS JUST IN: One of the serious failings of Part D is that at any time, insurers can change the formulary (the list of covered drugs) which could result in the sudden loss of drugs a beneficiary is using. Last Wednesday, a new politicy was issued. It states:
"No beneficiaries will be subject to discontinuation or reduction in coverage of the drugs they are currently using."
There are (of course) exceptions. One is that a drug may be removed from an insurer's formulary if new research shows the drug is unsafe for some poeple or if a new, lower-cost generic of a brand drug becomes available.