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Votes

Choosing a Medicare Prescription Drug Plan

Opinion

To the Editor:

You may have been asking yourself, should I join a new Medicare Prescription Drug Plan? And how can I choose a plan that is right for me?

You most likely have received your Medicare and your 2006 booklet from the Centers for Medicare Services and have seen or heard some ads and news stories about the new Medicare Prescription Drug Plan.

The actual enrollment period began Nov. 15 and ends on May 15, 2006. Coverage will begin on Jan. 1, 2006 for those who sign up by Dec. 31, 2005. If you sign up after Dec. 31, 2005 your coverage will begin the month after you sign up. And those who miss the May 15, 2006 deadline will have to wait until Nov. 15, 2006 to join and you may pay higher premiums. Costs for prescriptions, co-payments and coinsurance will vary depending on which of the 21 plans offered in Maryland that you choose, so it will pay to be an educated Medicare consumer.

I strongly encourage you to set aside time to review the Medicare book very closely. It contains vital information that could save you money on your prescription drugs. If you do not use a lot of prescription drugs, you still should consider signing up now; you will pay a lower monthly premium than if you wait.

At the Maryland Department of Aging, we want to make sure Marylanders have all the tools they will need to make an informed decision about their health care plans under the new Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Coverage Program (PDP). Working closely with our partners at the Area Agencies on Aging throughout Maryland, the Department of Aging is conducting outreach to help older Marylanders become informed about the various Medicare plans being offered in our State.

Medicare Reform was officially kicked off in Maryland on July 28th when the Center for Medicare Services National Tour Bus with U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Mike Leavitt aboard arrived in Baltimore and was greeted by members of Gov. Robert Ehrlich's cabinet and local leaders. Since then, the Maryland Department of Aging, the 19 Area Agencies on Aging throughout the State and our partners in other social services agencies have been conducting massive outreach to encourage Older Marylanders to pay close attention to the facts about Medicare reform.

Please make sure everyone you know who has Medicare and/or has a low monthly income either applies for the (Part D) Medicare prescription drug plan subsidies or has received a notice from Medicare (with blue and white stripes at the top) informing them they do not need to apply "because we already know that you will get this help." Similarly, as a company or government retiree with a medical and prescription plan, make certain you contact your benefits administrator to make sure your coverage will continue in the way you expect.

There are many places to turn to for help. Medicare's official Web site offers Plan Finder which will help you compare prescription costs under different plans offered in your area. You can get this personalized information at www.medicare.gov. You may also call the Area Agency on Aging or call the Maryland Department of Aging at 1-800-243-3425 to locate your Area Agency on Aging or visit the Web site at www.mdoa.staet.md.us.

Your Area Agency on Aging or local senior center can tell you about Medicare seminars being held near you. AARP Maryland and most pharmacies also have useful information.

I caution seniors to beware of con artists trying to seek personal information. Do not give out your social security number, bank account and/or credit card information to anyone who calls you. And no one can come to your door uninvited.

Furthermore, it is illegal for any telemarketer to call you if you've asked not to be called. The federal government has created the National Do Not Call registry — the free and easy way to stop telemarketing calls. To sign up, call toll-free 1-888-382-1222. TTY users call 1-866-290-4236. Or, go online to www.donotcall.gov if you want to be placed the National Do Not Call registry. (You must call from your home number.)

If you suspect someone is scamming you, please notify your local Area Agency on Aging or the Maryland Department of Aging at 1-800-243-3425 (toll-free) and we will take action through the Attorney General's office. Please write down as many details as possible before you alert us.

Medicare reform is a big deal for our nation's seniors. Let us help you prepare for this most important choice. If you have any questions — just remember your official resources at Medicare, The Maryland Department of Aging and your local Area Agency on Aging. We are here to help you make the most informed decision possible about your Medicare Prescription Plan.