May 3, 2006                                                         Contact:Lucas Hamilton

WITH 12 DAYS LEFT TO ENROLL, MORRISON REMINDS SENIORS TO GET SIGNED UP FOR MEDICARE PRESCRIPTION DRUG COVERAGE


      “Cover the Uninsured Week” provides opportunity to encourage seniors to enroll in Medicare Part D and highlight options for assistance, including Big Sky Rx
      With the window rapidly closing for individuals to enroll in Medicare's new prescription drug program, Montana State Auditor John Morrison is urging seniors to take the time required to research the various plans, get assistance if they need it and sign up for this benefit.
      “Medicare Part D started off with widespread confusion and errors within the system. But this shouldn't stop seniors from reviewing their options to see if enrolling makes sense,” said Morrison. “Depending on their circumstances, seniors can possibly save a great deal in drug costs over time. And there is a price if seniors defer the decision. For every month enrollment is delayed, the premium increases by 1%. So waiting one year to apply can add 12% to the annual premium.”
      The new federal program went into effect this past January and is designed to provide seniors with affordable options for prescription drug coverage. The coverage is available to everyone with Medicare, regardless of income or health status. As of April 20, nearly 60,000 eligible Montanans have not yet signed up for this important coverage.
      “If folks are eligible for Medicare Part D and haven't checked out their options, now is the time to do so,” said Morrison. “To get started, create a list of all the drugs you take on a regular basis, list them by their purpose, generic or brand name, dose and cost per month. Then go to Medicare's website at medicare.gov or call 800-MEDICARE. The online tool or service representative will generate a list of plans in your area and estimate the yearly cost. Folks can also get local help with this step by calling a counselor with the State Health Insurance Program at 1-800-551-3191.”
      Some drugs are not on all formularies, so this may require seniors to check with their physicians if certain drug substitutions are needed. Once seniors have decided on the plan, they need to double check with the insurance company to re-verify that their exact prescriptions are indeed covered.
      “I have asked Montana’s congressional delegation to extend the May 15th deadline through the end of 2006, so no senior is unfairly penalized for late enrollment,” said Morrison. “But so far, we have not received word that the deadline will be extended. I have also requested that going forward, the program be streamlined to make it less confusing while at the same time more affordable.”
      If people experience difficulty reaching a Medicare representative or SHIP counselor, there are many resources available to help seniors through the enrollment process including community senior centers, local Agencies on Aging, AARP and senior care facilities.
      “In addition to informational resources, there are also financial resources out there to help seniors cover the cost of their Medicare Part D premium,” said Morrison. “One of the best resources available is Big Sky Rx.”
      Backed by Morrison and the healthcare community, Big Sky Rx was created by the 2005 Legislature and funded with tobacco tax revenue. The program is a state initiative to help pay drug-coverage premiums for eligible Montanans enrolled in a prescription drug plan under Medicare Part D and currently has openings for thousands of participants. People can call 1-866-369-1233 or log onto www.bigskyrx.mt.gov for more information.