Nationwide Medicare Rx program enrollment begins today | NevadaAppeal.com

Nationwide Medicare Rx program enrollment begins today

Rhonda Costa-Landers
Appeal Staff Writer

Chad Lundquist/Nevada Appeal Catherine Howatt, 76, of Mound House, looks over the new Medicare Rx program while waiting with others to talk to a campaign worker at the Carson City Senior Center on Monday.

Being called the biggest change to the Medicare program in more than 40 years, the Medicare Rx program offers 18 plans to eligible residents in Nevada.

Enrollment begins today and continues to May 15.

Regardless of income, existing medical conditions or current prescribed medications, anyone with Medicare Part A and/or B is eligible under the new program.

“You have a choice,” said Calise Munoz, regional director for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “The best way to select the plan of choice is to educate yourself.”

Munoz, along with Steve Deering, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services deputy regional administrator, and U.S. Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., announced the open enrollment and fielded questions from a room of more than 300 seniors and Medicare recipients at the Carson City Senior Citizens Center on Monday.

The program is voluntary. If people are enrolled in a prescription program which is equal to or better than Medicare, they are encouraged to stay with it. One program mentioned by Deering is the Tricare program for veterans.

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“Keep it,” Deering said. “Don’t do anything. This program as well as programs offered by unions or some employers are better than what Medicare can do for you.”

Those who are enrolling for a Medicare program have until Dec. 31 to make their decision. They can also change the plan selection as many times as they like prior to Dec. 31. As of Jan. 1, they are locked into the program for one year. If enrolled by Dec. 31, the drug plan coverage begins Jan. 1. If enrolled after that, the coverage is effective the first day of the month after joining.

People on Medicare and Medicaid who do not enroll by May 15 will be automatically enrolled into a plan.

A yearly deductible up to $250 applies; premium costs depend on which plan is chosen.

Applicants may access the Medicare Web site to formulate what plan may work best for them at http://www.medicare.gov. Public libraries offer free Internet access as do some senior centers. They may also call the Medicare toll-free line at 1 (800) 633-4227.

Gibbons said more than 9,000 telephone representatives have been added to monitor the phone lines 24 hours a day, seven days a week to field questions and help enroll people.

On the Web site, the applicant enters information regarding income, medication and pharmacy. Choices will be narrowed from the original 18 to help the person make a selection best for him or her.

If a person does not sign up for a plan, a 1 percent penalty may be charged until the person enrolls. Plans are available at $5 or $6 a month.

Dorothy Saunders, 75, of Carson City, attended the workshop to better inform herself and find out what medications are covered.

“I’m taking medication for osteoporosis and it’s very expensive,” Saunders said. “I want to be sure they’re covered. I need to know. I’ve got insurance, but I also need to see about the deductible.”

After the workshop, the crowd was welcome to tour the Medicare Rx Express bus and use its computers to formulate their personal information and enroll in the program.

The deadline for enrollment is May 15. Each state has a plan based on its needs. If an insurance plan is approved by Medicare, it will carry the Medicare Rx plan logo. Munoz urges people to keep this in mind when inquiring about coverage.

“If it has the (Medicare) logo, then we approve,” Munoz said. “We urge people when they sign up to look for it. We are concerned with potential fraud.”

Sign up

WHAT: Medicare Rx program

WHO: Anyone with Medicare Part A and/or B is eligible

WHEN: Enroll by May 15

WHERE: http://www.medicare.gov

CALL: (800) 633-4227

– Contact Rhonda Costa-Landers at rcosta-landers@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1223.