CONSUMER ALERT!

Consumer Protection Division
(208) 334-2424 or
Toll-free at (800) 432-3545

Media Contact: Bob Cooper
(208) 334-4112

Date: February 8, 2006

State Officials Urge Seniors to be Cautious When Choosing a Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit Plan

(Boise) - Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, Idaho Department of Insurance Director Gary Smith and Idaho Commission on Aging Administrator Lois Bauer are urging Idaho senior citizens to carefully review Medicare prescription drug benefit plans prior to enrolling in a plan.

Voluntary enrollment for the new federal Medicare prescription drug benefit began November 15, 2005.

“We have received reports of Idaho consumers enrolling in prescription plans, only to later learn that such enrollment discontinued their participation in a retiree plan or changed their medical insurance coverage,” Department of Insurance Director Gary Smith said.

Smith added that while some Medicare beneficiaries believe they are enrolling in a prescription drug plan (PDP), they find out later that they have been enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan. By enrolling in a Medicare Advantage plan, consumers could lose their original medical coverage (such as retiree or union insurance plans) and may not be able to re-enroll in their original plans.

Attorney General Wasden advises consumers to choose carefully when selecting a Medicare prescription drug benefit plan. “There are several things to consider before choosing a plan,” Wasden said. “The cost of the premiums, deductibles and co-payments, what the plan covers, including a list of drugs covered by the plan, prior authorization requirements and coverage gaps. Convenience is also an important consideration. Does the plan contract with a pharmacy in your neighborhood? Does it offer mail-order service?”

Medicare consumers need to determine which plan is right for them, taking into consideration their current health care coverage and current and expected prescription drug usage. Consumers need to choose a plan to fit their individual needs, depending on whether they have Original Medicare, Medigap or Supplement Policies, retiree plans, Medicare Advantage Plans, Medicare and Medicaid or another health care plan.

“If you are in doubt about which plan is right for you, you should talk it over with your family, friends or experts,” Administrator Bauer said. “Although you can change plans one time between now and May 15, 2006, you will not be remiss in taking a little time to make sure the plan you enroll in is right for you.”

To learn more about Medicare prescription drug benefit plans, compare health plans and obtain instructions for what you need to do to enroll in a plan, go to www.medicare.gov, the official United States Government site for Medicare. You can look at Idaho-specific information under the categories “Landscape of Local Plans - State-by-State Breakdown” and “Compare Medicare Prescription Drug Plans - Find A Medicare Prescription Drug Plan - Plans in Your State.” You can also call the Idaho Department of Insurance’s Senior Health Insurance Benefits Advisor (SHIBA) at (800) 247–4422. SHIBA provides free information, counseling and assistance regarding Medicare and senior health insurance.

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