Cleveland area organizations kick off Medicare drug benefit campaign

(Plain Press, January 2006) Concerned for the wellbeing of Northeast Ohio’s seniors and others who rely on Medicare for their health care coverage, several organizations have banded together to kick off an intensive campaign to promote awareness of and enrollment in Medicare Part D—a new, voluntary prescription drug program available to all Medicare recipients.  The organizations include The Cleveland Clinic, Medicare Today and the Greater Cleveland Access to Benefits Coalition (GCABC).

“There are more than 77,000 seniors in the City of Cleveland alone, and they need information and assistance about the health care that is available to them,” said John D. Clough, M.D., physician liaison in the Office of Government Affairs at The Cleveland Clinic.  “This is a concerted effort to proactively reach out to seniors and help them make the decision that is in their best interests about enrollment.”

The campaign will include the following elements:
- Targeted phone calls to 60,000 Cleveland seniors
- Direct mail to more than 55,000 Cleveland seniors
- Paid advertising in a number of Cleveland area newspapers
- A live telethon December 15 on WKYC Channel 3 from 4 to 8 p.m.

Although enrollment efforts will continue through the next several months, the organizations hope to reach Clevelanders who would benefit from early enrollment in the program, especially those with limited income and resources.  Those who enrolled on or before Dec. 31 gained coverage on Jan. 1, saving on their prescription drug costs at the earliest possible date.   

“So many people are focused on the complexity of this issue, but our message is simple:  Lose the confusion and gain the benefits,” said Helen Knipe Smith, Ohio Coordinator for Medicare Today.  “Help is available locally for anyone who needs it.  No one should forfeit the significant benefits of this program.”

Medicare recipients with limited resources may be eligible for a subsidy to help with deductibles, premiums and co-payments for Medicare Part D.  The Social Security Administration is currently accepting “extra help” applications and will advise applicants as to whether or not they meet the requirements.  Applications must be completed to receive extra help and are available by calling 1-800-772-1213.  Online applications are also being accepted at www.socialsecurity.gov.

“The Medicare prescription drug program is designed to ensure that everyone with Medicare has access to prescription drug coverage, especially those with limited incomes,” said Stephanie Fallcreek, executive director of the Fairhill Center and member of the leadership core of the GCABC, which assists low income Medicare beneficiaries in applying for “extra help” and choosing a plan.  “Clevelanders should take advantage of this program, and we’re ready to guide them through that process.”

Those currently enrolled in Medicare Part A and/or Part B can join the voluntary prescription drug program through May 15, 2006.  For those who enrolled by Dec. 31, 2005, coverage began on Jan. 1, 2006.  After Dec. 31, coverage will begin the first day of the month after the month of enrollment.  Although coverage will still be available after May 15, 2006, those who enroll after that date will most likely be subject to penalties and higher monthly premiums--unless their current coverage is as good as or better than what is available through Medicare.

Medicare advocates are urging seniors to take the following steps toward enrolling in the Medicare prescription drug program:

1.    Gather information.  
a.    Make a list of current prescriptions.  Each of the 61 plans in Ohio has a list of prescriptions (aka formularies) that they will cover through the Medicare program.  You will need to list exactly what medicines you are taking in order to narrow down the best options.  Include the name, dosage, frequency taken and the monthly and yearly cost of each drug.
b.    Make a list of preferred pharmacies.  In addition to the prescription formularies, plans also restrict pharmacies.  The agency you work with can take that into account when researching your situation.
c.    Gather information about current prescription drug coverage.  Not all supplemental prescription drug coverage will be better than the Medicare plans.  Having this information will allow for a more inclusive and accurate plan comparison.

2.     Ask an expert.  There is more than one agency available to help compare plans.  Contact one of the following agencies, and they will use the gathered information to give several options that will provide the best savings based on the needs of each individual.  (The agencies will not choose one specific plan, but will provide several options to help the person with Medicare make a final decision.)
a.    Greater Cleveland Access to Benefits Coalition- (216) 373-1650 (Assistance for limited-income seniors with applying for extra help and selecting a program) or (216) 421-1350 x185 (to attend or schedule an education/enrollment session)
b.    Medicare/Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services- 1-800-MEDICARE or visit the Web site at www.medicare.gov
c.    Ohio Senior Health Insurance Information Program (OSHIIP) -1-800-686-1578 or visit the Web site at www.ohioinsurance.gov
d.    Medicare Today—(216) 671-7900 (For a group educational session) or visit the Web site at www.medicaretoday.org

3.    Make a decision.   Those who decide to enroll in one of the approved programs can join by:
a.    Contacting the prescription drug plan provider directly.   Call the provider for an enrollment form, fill it out and mail it in; or visit the provider’s Web site and enroll online.
b.    Calling 1-800-MEDICARE or 1-800-686-1578 (OSHIIP).  

The Greater Cleveland Access to Benefits Coalition (GCABC) is the local partner of Access to Benefits Coalition, a national partnership dedicated to ensuring that Medicare beneficiaries with lower incomes know about and can make the best use of all available resources for saving money on prescription drugs.  GCABC is managed by the City of Cleveland Department of Aging and the Western Reserve Area Agency on Aging.  The leadership core of the GCABC also includes Fairhill Center, Benjamin Rose Institute, MetroHealth Advantage, United Way’s First Call for Help and Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP).  Forty additional Cleveland area organizations comprise the coalition.    

Medicare Today, which has an outreach program in Ohio, is a broad-based partnership of over 200 organizations—including the Cleveland Clinic—representing seniors, patients, health care groups, employers and others.  Medicare Today’s mission is to educate and inform Medicare beneficiaries and the public at large on the new prescription drug benefit and other improvements to the Medicare program. (www.medicaretoday.org)

 

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