June 1, 2006                                                         Contact:Lucas Hamilton


      State Auditor John Morrison announced today that some limited income Medicare beneficiaries will be allowed to enroll past the May 15, 2006 prescription drug coverage (Part D) initial enrollment deadline without facing a financial penalty. The new federal program went into effect this past January. Beneficiaries had a six-month open enrollment period to sign up for the benefit.
      “My office has been on the front lines with this program since it was launched. We have handled hundreds if not thousands of calls from seniors concerned about the confusing enrollment process,” said Morrison. “I applaud the efforts of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to ensure that seniors who have limited purchasing power are not paying financial penalties for needed prescription drugs."
      CMS will allow "ongoing" enrollment into Part D plans for limited income beneficiaries who have total assets below $11,500 (individual) and $23,000 (couple) and an annual income below $14,700 (individual) and $19,800 (couple). Medicare beneficiaries who do not meet the income and asset limits and do not have prior qualifying coverage will not be able to enroll until the next open enrollment period, and will face a premium penalty for late enrollment.
      The Medicare Advantage open enrollment period continues through June 30, 2006. This period provides a single opportunity for beneficiaries to enroll or disenroll from a Medicare Advantage plan, which typically is a managed care plan that provides comprehensive benefits, often including prescription drug coverage. Beneficiaries have several options during this period, including converting from a Medicare Advantage plan with a Part D component to original Medicare with a stand-alone Part D plan.
      “While there have been some complications, the program is ultimately designed to be a cost saving measure,” said Morrison. “Because the program had such a confusing start, I wrote a letter to Montana’s congressional delegation asking that they waive the May 15th deadline so no senior was unfairly penalized for late enrollment. I commend Senator Baucus because he has introduced a bill to do just that. Even though the May 15th deadline for regular enrollment has come and gone, I urge folks who are eligible to find out about their options in the event that the deadline is waived.”
      Anyone wanting assistance with the enrollment process can call the State Auditor’s Office at 1-800-332-6148 or their local State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) office at 1-800-551-3191.