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Published: 7/16/2004

'Drug information summit' for seniors is set

BY LUKE SHOCKMAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Advocates for senior citizens are hoping a "drug information summit" Tuesday in Toledo will answer some questions about Medicare discount drug cards.

"We think there's still a lot of confusion among seniors," said Billie Johnson, director of the Area Office on Aging of Northwest Ohio, who estimated her office has received up to 60 phone calls a day from puzzled seniors.

"This is an attempt on our part to bring together a variety of experts to meet directly with seniors," she said.

The office, which serves 10 northwest Ohio counties, is sponsoring the free summit with the United Way of Greater Toledo. The program will run from 1 to 4 p.m. in the Dana Center at the Medical College of Ohio. Those interested in attending are asked to call 419-382-0624, Ext. 177 to reserve a spot.

Information also will be presented about other prescription discount programs, including the state's Golden Buckeye card. Representatives from the Ohio Department of Insurance, AARP, Better Business Bureau as well as elected officials will be on hand to give presentations and answer questions.

The Medicare discount cards, launched last month, have been controversial because many senior advocates say there's a wide variation in savings as well as confusing rules about their use. There's also been skepticism about how beneficial the cards are.

The AARP released a study earlier this month that found many drug companies raised their prices before and after the cards were rolled out, negating any savings offered by the cards.

Mi'Chael Schassberger, an associate planner at the Area Office on Aging, said she's seen that, too.

"Prices have skyrocketed," she said.

Still, she said it's important for seniors to take a close look at what's available because some cards - and there are more than 70 discount cards available - may offer significant savings. Ms. Johnson agreed, adding that many low-income seniors who are eligible for $600 in annual drug subsidies from Medicare haven't applied for the money.

Seniors going to the summit and looking for more information on buying drugs from Canada or other countries may be out luck. Though importing drugs from other countries is a popular option for some seniors and a bill legalizing it was recently passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, officially the federal government frowns on such importation.

Because the Area Office on Aging receives state and federal funding, Ms. Johnson said her office will avoid talking about re-importation. Other speakers at the summit, however, may bring it up, she said.

Contact Luke Shockman at:

lshockman@theblade.com

or 419-724-6084.



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