A Publication of WTVP

During its brief four-year history, Medicare’s Part D program, designed to subsidize the cost of prescription drugs for Medicare beneficiaries, has been the subject of much debate. On one side, proponents have touted the plan’s ability to expand access to prescription drugs to seniors; on the other, critics have long questioned its design and user-friendly appeal.

Now, a report published by the New England Journal of Medicine indicates that, overall, Medicare Part D is producing favorable results. In fact, by the beginning of 2009, about 60 percent of Medicare beneficiaries were actively participating in a Part D plan. But, despite these findings, professionals in the healthcare sector cannot help but point to the large number—roughly 4.5 million—of Medicare beneficiaries who remain without much-needed drug coverage. It seems undeniable that something is standing in their way when it comes to enrolling for Medicare Part D.

“While progress has been made in terms of the accessibility of prescription drugs to seniors, there are still some inherent flaws in the Medicare Part D program that are preventing older adults from signing up for a plan,” said Roger Ebert, branch manager of the Peoria sales office of Bankers Life and Casualty Company. “In particular, the process of picking the best-suited and economical option remains a daunting task.”

Recent research funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation confirms Ebert’s point. Findings from the work show that when choosing Medicare drug coverage, it is common for older adults to think they have chosen the lowest cost plan when, in fact, they have not. Additionally, researchers found that an increase in the number of insurance plans available reduced the likelihood of picking the plan with the lowest annual costs.

“Medicare prescription drug plans vary a great deal, and the sheer number of choices can be overwhelming,” said Ebert, who suggests that older adults in the Peoria area take the following points into consideration when choosing coverage:

“We encourage seniors to be proactive when choosing coverage for their prescription needs,” said Ebert. “There is the possibility that they can literally be saving hundreds of dollars every year.

“Although Medicare was established to help pay basic healthcare needs for people ages 65 and older, it was never intended to cover all medical expenses,” added Ebert. “Programs such as Medicare Part D can help seniors cover more of their expenses.” iBi