TOPICS > Health

Deadline for Prescription Drug Enrollment Plan Approaches

May 8, 2006 at 6:45 PM EDT


JIM LEHRER: Finally tonight, the prescription drugs story. It’s reported by Susan Dentzer of our Health Unit, a partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

HEALTH INSURANCE ADVISER: These are just the names of the plans and the companies that provide the plans.

SUSAN DENTZER, NewsHour Health Correspondent: The clock is ticking for Medicare beneficiaries. Most have until May 15th to sign up for prescription drug coverage before penalties kick in.

HEALTH INSURANCE ADVISER: It looks like your cheapest annual cost that you can get away with is this one right here.

SUSAN DENTZER: With the approaching deadline, Vernon and Doris Jones came to a recent seniors’ health fair in Chesapeake, Virginia, to sign up. The couple takes about 16 drugs between them, he for conditions like high blood pressure, she for the early stages of Alzheimer’s.

VERNON JONES, Medicare Enrollee: Time was running out, getting close, so we was kind of worried about, if we stayed where we was at and let the time run out, what would the circumstances
be, you know, would it be much more or could we get another plan?

Sorting through options

SUSAN DENTZER: John Waugh (ph), an enrollment counselor with a group called My Medicare Matters, helped the Jones sort through the options. On the Web site, he typed in the list of their drugs and dosages to find plans that covered them. Medicare's PlanFinder program offered up a menu.

ENROLLMENT COUNSELOR: This plan is by Humana. The monthly bill is $8.81 a month.


ENROLLMENT COUNSELOR: Yes, that's very cheap.

SUSAN DENTZER: Similar scenes are now occurring nationwide as Medicare's six-month-long open enrollment period draws to a close. After some initial major glitches when the program launched in January, things are finally settling down, says Medicare Administrator Dr. Mark McClellan.

DR. MARK MCCLELLAN, Administrator, Medicare: Enrollment is strong, and it continues to get stronger. At this point, we've exceeded the enrollment expectations of many independent analysts, with more than 30 million people participating in the program, with only a limited number of beneficiaries left who haven't made a decision yet.

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