Sunday, July 30, 2006

WaPo: GOP Drug Plan is biting unsuspecting seniors

Bills Soar As Many Hit Gap in Drug Plan: "The calls are starting to come in from shocked or angry seniors. They have just learned that their Medicare drug plans are maxing out on early coverage and that they must now spend $2,850 from their own pockets before coverage will resume.

'I can't pay for my medications,' one man told Howard Houghton of the Fairfax Area Agency on Aging the other day. 'What do I do?'

Over the next five months, several million Americans with high medicine costs could find themselves in a similar bind. The gap in insurance, popularly called the doughnut hole, is an unusual provision in most of the private plans offered in Medicare's new Part D prescription drug program. Advocates for the elderly say it is misunderstood and problematic.

'There's nothing sweet about the doughnut hole,' said Deene Beebe, spokeswoman for the New York-based Medicare Rights Center.

The program was designed to give all participants a certain level of insurance and to protect elderly and disabled recipients with chronic or catastrophic illnesses from huge prescription expenses. To afford those two goals, Part D's designers built in an annual period during which individuals have to pay for medicines themselves.

Under a standard plan this first year, Medicare handles 75 percent of drug costs after a deductible until the bill reaches $2,250. It does not kick in again until those costs total $5,100. After that, prescriptions are almost completely paid for. The very poor can get special subsidies."


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