A Publication of WTVP

One of the most anticipated changes to Medicare begins next month. The cost of paying for prescription drugs has been increasing every year, especially for people who rely solely on Medicare for their health coverage. Medicare pays for some prescriptions, like certain cancer drugs, but Medicare doesn't cover everything. Congress and President Bush took action last year to address this problem, and in November, a long-anticipated Medicare prescription drug bill was signed into law.

The first program in this law takes effect in June, with a prescription drug discount card that is approved by Medicare. This is an interim step to assist Medicare recipients until the full Medicare prescription drug benefit takes effect in 2006.

Seniors will be able to use this discount card at the point of purchase to obtain immediate savings of up to 25 percent on prescription drugs. This will help modernize the program to meet seniors' needs by offering a voluntary benefit under the program.

Medicare has been negotiating with private companies to provide these cards. If you're on Medicare, you'll be able to choose one of the discount cards offered by these companies to help reduce the costs on outpatient prescription drugs. In addition to the card, if you have a lower income that makes it difficult to purchase prescription drugs, you may be eligible for a $600 credit on the drug discount card you choose.

While the drug card program begins in June, Medicare beneficiaries can start enrolling now. You might have to pay an annual enrollment fee of no more than $30, but the cards will be good until the new drug benefit starts in January 2006.

These new discount cards are approved by Medicare and are separate from discount cards offered by some private companies. You should review cards carefully before selecting one. If the card is Medicare-approved, a seal stating this will be on the card. If you enroll in a Medicare-approved drug discount card, you'll be the only person eligible to use the card. Also, people who have outpatient drug coverage under Medicaid aren't eligible for a Medicare discount card.

To enroll in the program, a person can fill out a company's enrollment form and mail or fax it to the company, or a person can provide their information over the phone or Internet. Once the enrollment form is approved, the company will send out the Medicare-approved discount card and materials such as a member's handbook, discount drug list, and participating pharmacies.

I'd like to stress that this is a voluntary program. If Medicare beneficiaries doesn't want to participate in the program, they don't have to participate. If someone currently uses Medicare but also participates in a plan that has a drug benefit, he or she doesn't have to switch. What this card-and, eventually, the full-fledged benefit under Medicare-really addresses is the need to provide relief to seniors who don't currently have help paying for prescription drugs.

I urge interested people to look hard at this new discount drug card and do some comparison shopping. For more information on the program, call 800-MEDICARE, or visit their Web site at People can also contact my office with questions or for further information. IBI