Seniors signing up for medicine discount cards

Enrollment costs up to $30 a year for savings of up to 30%

Seniors advised to choose discount card carefully

May 04, 2004|BY A SUN STAFF WRITER

Enrollment for a new, optional Medicare prescription drug discount card program began yesterday.

Twenty-eight companies are sponsoring 49 discount cards. Seniors eligible for Medicare can apply for a card anytime. Applicants can hold only one and will be eligible to switch cards only once, later this year.

Enrollment costs up to $30 a year and is expected to provide discounts of 15 percent to 25 percent on name-brand medicines and up to 30 percent on generics, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Single beneficiaries who earn less than $12,569 a year and couples who earn less than $16,862 receive the card for free and get a total subsidy of $1,200 this year and next for drug purchases.

People who have drug benefits through Medicaid, TRICARE or group health plans are not eligible for the program.

Information about the discount cards, including price comparisons of medications each offers, is available at the Medicare Web site (www.medicare.gov) or by calling Medicare at 1-800-633-4227.

Consumer advocates are urging seniors to select a card carefully.

"We're telling our members to take their time, look at the meds they're taking and call card providers for more information about the discounts they offer on those meds," said Steve Hahn, spokesman for AARP. The organization provides information about choosing a discount card at its Web site (www.aarp.org). People can request an AARP brochure on the program by calling 1-888-687-2277.

The Medicare drug discount cards are intended to serve as a bridge to the full Medicare prescription drug benefit program, which begins Jan. 1, 2006.

Federal officials are hoping that at least 7 million of about 10 million Medicare recipients who have no drug insurance coverage apply for the cards. Critics of the program say its discounts fall short of price breaks that seniors can find by shopping for drugs on the Internet or by using discount cards already offered by drug companies and pharmacies.

But everyone agrees that the program will be valuable for seniors who qualify for the $600-a-year subsidy.

"We think that this program is particularly important for our low-income members," Hahn said.

"They should take their time and choose a card carefully."

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