Herald JournalHerald Journal, May 3, 2004

Seniors should do homework on Medicare discount cards first

By Lynda Jensen

Seniors should take their time and use caution when it comes to the new Medicare discount cards, which will become effective today, according to local pharmacists.

Medicare beneficiaries are eligible for discounts starting June 1. The discount is scheduled to run through 2005.

Seniors who enroll in the program are locked into the card they initially choose.

“Do your homework. Be very careful,” commented Ken Kremer of Kremer Pharmacy in Winsted.

“Take extreme caution,” agreed pharmacist John Ringold of Howard Lake Drug.

Seniors should take their time and ask a lot of questions to educate themselves about the program before they make major decisions, they said.

Not everyone is eligible for the cards, since seniors with existing prescription coverage of any kind do not qualify for the discount, Kremer said.

The program is designed to add more benefits for Medicare recipients. Full Medicare prescription drug coverage starts in 2006. Once available beneficiaries can enroll through 2006 to receive a Medicare approved drug discount card and save about 10 to 25 percent on medicines, according to information supplied by Ringold.

Other benefits include new preventative measures such as blood screening tests and a one-time initial wellness physical exam within six months of the day the person enrolls in Medicare Part B.

There is also financial assistance, with Medicare offering assistance for singles with incomes below $12,569, or for married couples with incomes below $16,862. There is a Medicare credit of up to $600.

There is also an allowance for seniors to set aside money each year, tax-free, in health savings accounts. These accounts can be used to help pay for medical expenses and unused money will earn interest tax free just like an Individual Retirement Account (IRA).

Telephone solicitations regarding the discount cards are illegal, Kremer noted.

“Talk with your local pharmacist,” Kremer said. Pharmacies participate in some of a variety of Medicare-approved programs, but not all do, Kremer said.

“The law does not specify who must provide the discount – it only says that the manufacturers must pay ‘some,” it was noted in a newsletter of the National Community Pharmacists Association.

The NCPA represents 24,000 pharmacies nationwide.


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