Drug cards a mixed blessing

Published 4:48 pm Saturday, June 12, 2004

By By JAMES COLLINS / Niles Daily Star
NILES -- Medicare has recently made a new discount drug card available, but a confusing format has people wondering if it is really worth it.
The cards, which became effective on June 1, will offer immediate savings on the full retail price of prescription drugs.
Those who have Medicare and do not have outpatient prescription drug coverage through Medicaid, are eligible to enroll for one of the discount cards.
The main thing confusing people is the fact that Medicare is contracting with private companies to offer the voluntary discount cards. There are a total of about 75 cards to choose from and they all offer different discounts on different drugs. Some of the cards are not offered in particular areas and the private companies are allowed to charge an annual enrollment fee of no more than $30.
Martin's Supermarket pharmacy manager Amie Boulanger has only seen about a half dozen people come in to use the cards so far, but said many people have come in to ask questions.
Those who enroll to receive a card will choose the card that best fits their prescription needs and once they make a decision, they are locked in with that card until the next enrollment period.
Boulanger said another possible drawback is that the private companies offering the cards can change what their plans cover at any time.
Kathy Ender, director of the Niles Senior Citizens Center, agreed that cards were confusing because of the amount of plans to choose from and because it is totally different than anything that has been available before.
The senior center offered an informational meeting to discuss the discount cards with pharmacists from Walgreen Drug Store last week.
Ender anticipated a lot of questions about the cards, but that has not been the case.
After talking with pharmacists, Ender said many have told her that the discounts provided by the cards are not too much different than each pharmacy's individual senior citizen discounts.
But, she still encourages everyone eligible to look into the cards to see if they will benefit their particular prescriptions in any way.
Boulanger and Ender pointed out that the best aspect of the discount cards is probably the $600 credit that is available to those with low annual incomes.
To be eligible for this credit your annual income can be no more than $12,569 for single people and no more than $16,862 for married couples.
If approved for the $600 credit from Medicare, the amount will be applied to your card and can be used throughout the year for your prescription drugs. Customers will still have to pay a five or 10 percent co-insurance on the discounted cost of the prescriptions.
These discount cards are being offered until December 31, 2005, when this program ends and Medicare begins a new comprehensive prescription drug benefit plan.
For more information, call 1-800-MEDICARE or visit their website at www.medicare.gov.