Playing your cards right

New prescription drug cards are aimed helping Medicare recipients,
but deciding which one to use might pose challenges
Sunday, May 2, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 8:38 a.m. CDT, Thursday, July 17, 2008

Starting Monday, Medicare recipients can begin applying for the new prescription drug discount cards. But with 28 different cards, each with its own formulary of available drugs, deciding which card to get might be difficult.

The discount cards, which will cost $30 a year, are aimed at providing relief to senior citizens until the new prescription drug plan for Medicare recipients goes into full effect in 2006. The card could reduce the cost of prescription medications by 10 percent to 25 percent.

By enrolling in the discount card program, senior citizens in the lowest income bracket — single people earning less than $12,123 and couples earning less than $16,362 — can get up to $600 in federal assistance.

71 Different cards are available

The Missouri State Medical Association said that more than 173,000 Medicare recipients in the state could benefit. There are as many as 71 different Medicare-approved prescription drug cards offered by private companies. When applying for the card, recipients are faced with the task of deciding which card covers the majority of their prescriptions.

Blaine Alberty of D&H Prescription Drug Store said pharmacists will be able to help customers decide which card is best for them.

Alberty recommended that people research the plans and their benefits before making a decision. “It will behoove people to take a good look at the drug lists to find the best fit,” he said.

Once recipients choose a drug card, they won’t be able to switch to a different one until January.

Cards have critics

Mary Hussman of Concerned Citizens of Mid-Missouri, a critic of Medicare reforms passed by Congress last year, said that will put people in a difficult position.

While they are locked in to one plan, the companies that offer the cards are allowed to change their drug formularies, she said. “Every seven days they’re allowed to switch or drop drugs without any notification,” Hussman said.

Medicare recipient Bill Ray said he doesn’t see how the prescription drug card will benefit him. He has decided that he will not apply for one. Ray said he is concerned that drug prices could go up after the cards are issued.

“They say ‘We’ll save you 25 percent,’ and all of a sudden prices increase by 30 percent,” he said. “That doesn’t come out to much savings there.”

The card is optional for people covered by Medicare, and it is not available to people who have outpatient prescription drug coverage with Medicaid.

The card can be obtained by calling 800-MEDICARE or by visiting Recipients can begin using their card June 1.

According to the Missouri State Medical Association, once the new Medicare program goes into full effect in 2006, low-income senior citizens won’t pay more than $5 for each prescription. Everyone else covered by Medicare will receive an estimated average of 50 percent savings on prescription drugs.

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