Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Part D Deadline

The May 15th deadline has passed and an estimated 5M seniors have not signed up for the much ballyhooed Medicare Part D prescription drug plan. That is about 12% of eligibles.

Seniors who sign up after the midnight Monday deadline face a 1 percent penalty per month unless they are deemed eligible for a low-income benefit program.

Here’s a heads up. Most of the low income folks can still qualify for free or almost free medications and don’t have to pay a dime for Part D coverage. Where is the incentive to sign up if you can still get meds for free without the Part D program?

Leavitt said imposing a penalty for those who miss the signup deadline is necessary. People cannot be allowed to wait to buy insurance only when they are about to use the benefit, he said.

Wow! Is this a sudden revelation? Washington has figured out if you don’t place penalties in place people will put off buying coverage until they really need it.

If Washington can figure this out, why can’t legislators in places like VT, NH, CT & NY figure it out. What do those states have in common? A carrier is required to take you for (under 65) health insurance without regard to your prior medical history. You don’t suppose there are folks living in those states that actually wait until an illness is diagnosed before buying coverage?

A Government Accountability Office report last week found Medicare's customer service representatives gave wrong or incomplete answers to callers about a third of the time, but Medicare Director Mark McClellan told a congressional hearing last week that those problems have been addressed.

This can’t be good. But of course you have to consider the same folks that gave us the tax code have now offered seniors a federal drug benefit. In Georgia there are over 60 plans to sort through. Agents who offer these plans must first be certified by the carrier which means several hours of classroom training before you can even talk to seniors about the plan. Because of the training involved, most agents only represent 2 or 3 carriers covering about a dozen plans. That means a senior who wants to talk to an agent would have to see 10 – 15 agents to review all plans available.

Could Washington make it any more difficult?

I believe Davy Crockett is supposed to have said lawyers should not be allowed to be politicians. If he didn’t say it, he should have.
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