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Published: Wednesday, 12/27/2006

Deadline nears to enroll in or switch senior drug program

Senior citizens already enrolled in Medicare's Plan D prescription drug program should check their plans this week to avoid costly changes in drug prices, beginning Monday.

The deadline to enroll or change one's coverage to a different provider under Plan D is Friday.

Average premiums for plans with deductibles and so-called "donut hole" coverage that re-main the same will increase by 11.1 percent, according to a recent analysis by the staff of Rep. Henry Waxman (D., Calif.).

A "donut hole" is a gap in coverage where subscribers pay the entire cost for their prescriptions. The "donut hole" will increase in 2007 by $150, to $2,400, but before coverage begins, participants must pay $3,850 in out-of-pocket expenses, the Ohio Department of Aging said.

The analysis by Mr. Waxman's office further shows that premiums for the lowest-price plan in each state will jump by 44 percent, a pace 11 times greater than inflation.

Guidance listed on Medicare's Internet home page merely states: "However, if you're satisfied with your current plan's cost and coverage for next year and the customer service you receive, you don't need to do anything."

The Area Office on Aging of Northwestern Ohio and U.S. Sen. George Voinovich (R., Ohio) hosted a forum in Toledo on the changes last week.

A survey of senior citizens in November by the Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard University's School of Public Health found mixed support for Medicare's prescription drug program a year after its inception.

While 68 percent of respondents said the program saved money on prescriptions, 73 percent called the program "too complicated," and 60 percent said drug companies benefit too much from the program's rules.

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