When I wrote about selecting a Medicare Part D prescription drug plan a couple of weeks ago, I gave it an average grade - at least for my simple needs. It might have been a B except that the Medicare website is so badly designed, so let’s call it a C.
Well, hold on just a minute now. The process is not done yet.
After applying for the plan I selected, I expected the next steps would move along as the pleasant woman representing the insurance carrier had explained on the telephone: my “welcome kit” would arrive in a couple of weeks along with an identification card, and I would be billed monthly as we had arranged. If I needed prescription drugs before my card arrived, said the woman, here was a number to call. It all appeared to be reassuringly efficient.
Random mailings and calls began arriving. Medicare sent a form asking for my name and Medicare claim number. Odd, since I already had my Medicare card in hand, but I followed the instructions anyway.
An application for Part D insurance arrived from the carrier I had selected. Having already applied by telephone, I called to ask if they wanted the application on paper too. No, that wouldn’t be necessary. The mailing was an error, probably the marketing department who didn’t yet know I had enrolled. Sorry. Please accept our apologies, etc.
Then an insurance company representative called to tell me there was a snag in my application; it would be longer until my card would be sent than I’d originally been advised. She didn’t know what the hang-up was, but assumed it had to do with a backlog of applications.
A few days later, I arrived home to a phone message from the insurance carrier asking me to call “ASAP” as there was a problem with my application. The tone in the caller’s voice suggested urgency.
That’s when the fun began.
The phone number led to the general customer service line. Each time you call, there are nearly ten minutes worth of menu choices and other questions before you sit on hold for an indeterminate length of time. I had an appointment and so hung up after 15 minutes.
I tried again the next day, went through the menu and the Q&A routine again, and way too long on hold. Eventually, I got a live person who asked why I was calling. “I’m returning your call,” said I. Thence ensued a long series of questions I had just punched into the telephone. When the bureaucracy had been satisfied, the woman once again asked why I was calling. I told her I didn’t know, but it apparently had something to do with my application for Medicare Part D coverage.
Many minutes of silence followed punctuated by my occasional question: Are you still there? At last, the woman said, “I think you’re not eligible for this coverage.”
“You think? asked I. “Well, I’m not sure,” said she.
I will spare you the rest of that conversation and the next one - a close duplicate with a supervisor who added that I am not in Medicare’s database. Since I have a card and a number, I doubted that, but it wasn’t worth having the conversation. She was certain I had never applied for Medicare.
Moving on to the third person - 40 minutes after I’d begun the phone call - I was assured that I am in the Medicare database but, because I had applied for Part D before my 65th birthday, the application had been voided and I would need to apply again.
No amount of explaining that the point had been to apply early so that I would be covered from my birthday forward made a dent. Nor did my suggestion that since my information had not changed in the intervening two weeks, perhaps the best course would be to just re-submit my original application.
Oh, no - that would never do, and I spent another 15 or 20 minutes making a second telephone application. No mention was made this time of what I should do if I need a prescription filled before my “welcome kit” arrives.
Is this what old age is about? Endless time on hold? The same questions repeated five, six, even seven times in one phone call? Mysterious mailings about information already established? Errors in Medicare and insurance records? Urgent-sounding phone calls that are not so urgent? Confused customer service people? Isn't there enough of this in our lives already?
I’m exhausted, and I still don't have a prescription drug card.
This Just In: Part D Cost Increases
The kinks aren't even worked out of the program yet, but Medicare announced last week that the cost to consumers of Part D will increase in 2007:
- Deductibles, for those plans which include them, will be allowed to increase by $15 to $265
- The coverage limit before the "doughnut hole" kicks in will be increased by $150 to $2400
- The maximum out-of-pocket expenses before Medicare pays 95 percent of drug costs increases by $250 to $3850
- Total increase in cost to an insured who uses enough drugs to get past the doughnut hole: $351.25
That is, unless insurance companies increase premiums too:
"Insurance companies say they are analyzing what kind of effect the increase will have on next year's premiums, but most say the new coverage limits shouldn't significantly inflate 2007 rates."
- - The Wichita Eagle, 15 April 2006
Back in the 1960s or '70s, Senator Everett Dirksen famously said about the federal budget, "A million here, a million there, and pretty soon you're talking about real money."
For elders on fixed incomes, an increase of a hundred dollars here, a hundred dollars there and pretty soon they're choosing between drugs and food.