Aliza Rothenberg, associate vice president for marketing and product development at CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, said the Owings Mills company had sent out nearly 60,000 applications for its Medicare drug plan, called MediCareFirst, and was fielding 700 to 1,300 questions a day at its call center.
So far, she said, 16,000 had enrolled. Since the program is new, she said, the company didn't know how to project enrollment, or whether the rate of sign-up was fast or slow.
"We really don't have an expectation," she said.
The effort at education, and the level of interest, will eventually translate into more enrollments, said Ghose, of the insurance trade association.
"With any major change in a public program," he said, "there is going to be a period of education, a period of understanding, and then a period where people will reap the benefits."
"A lot of seniors are still confused," said Charles Culbertson, president of United Seniors of Maryland, "but the outreach is making a real difference."
David Sloane, director of government relations and advocacy for AARP, said, "We're cautiously optimistic" that enrollment will increase.
"There are lots of choices, and the analysis is not straightforward," he said. "But when word starts to spread, the velocity of enrollment will pick up."
Where to get help
Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the federal agency that administers the Medicare program. www.medicare.gov or 1-800-MEDICARE
Senior Health Insurance Assistance Program. Local SHIP offices run information sessions and do one-on-one counseling. For a list of all SHIP programs in the state, see www.mdoa.state.md.us/ship.html or call the state Department of Aging at 410-767-1100 or 800-243-3425
SHIP offices in the Baltimore area
Anne Arundel, 410-222-4464
Baltimore County, 410-887-2059
Maryland Department of Aging, www.mdoa.state.md.us/PartDintro.html
Maryland Attorney General, www.oag.state.md.us/Consumer/partd.htm
Baltimore City Medicare surveillance program, http:--www.baltimorecitymedicare.org
Baltimore County Department of Aging senior resource, www.takingcareofmomanddad.net
Medicare Rx Education Network, a coalition of professional and consumer groups, medicarerxeducation.org/about-us.htm
Access to Benefits Coalition, a similar group, ssl2.benefitscheckup.org/
Medicare Rights Center, medicarerights.org/drughelp.html