Medicare drug plan deadline is May 15


Your Money


Time's almost up.

The May 15 deadline for signing up for a Medicare prescription drug plan is looming. And if you qualify for Medicare and ignore this special one-time deadline, Uncle Sam plans to slap you with a penalty.

So if you have hesitated because you are confused, get help and take action. If you are buying drugs from Canada, make sure you think about what you will do if the government cuts off your source of medication. If you think you have drug coverage through existing insurance, don't guess - make sure.

But whatever you do, don't ignore May 15. It's a deadline that must be taken seriously because the government will punish seniors who procrastinate, potentially adding hundreds of dollars to their drug costs. Starting this year, seniors are eligible for what's called Medicare Part D, and often can save money on the prescription drugs they take.

According to the Medicare administration, the average senior will save $1,100 through the program annually. But receiving the benefit is not automatic. Seniors have to sign up through a private insurance company that is approved by Medicare for this program. And they have to pay a monthly fee - or premium - to qualify for the subsidized drug plan.

Depending on the state you live in, you might find a basic plan for as little as $5.50 a month, which is ideal for people who are healthy and not taking drugs. More extensive plans for people on many drugs might cost closer to $100 a month.

Selecting which is right for you requires matching the drugs you take and the total price you will pay based on adding three factors: the monthly premium, the deductible (or your initial charge) each year, and the portion of each drug bill you will be charged.

Counties throughout the nation have staff available to advise people. You can usually find them by calling your state department on aging.

There is also the Eldercare locator at 800-677-1116, or 800-Medicare helps seven days a week, 24 hours a day. Do-it-yourselfers can use an excellent computer tool at

If you have a low income or are disabled, and consequently receive Medicaid, you might not have to take another step. You may have received a letter telling you that you have prescription coverage through the government program. But make sure you have that paperwork. If you are not sure, call one of the help lines above to clarify your status.

Also, if you have been receiving drug coverage through a former employer or union, or are in a veterans program, you have what's called "credible coverage." That means you can stick with that drug coverage. If an employer cuts your benefits in the future, you will be allowed to enroll in Medicare Part D without penalty.

If you are like the majority of middle-class seniors, you don't have drug coverage that the government considers "credible." That means you must take action to enroll with a Part D drug-coverage provider by May 15. A senior missing the date will face a penalty if she later enrolls. Under the rules, every month that passes after May 15 will raise your premium 1 percent.

Messages for Gail MarksJarvis also can be left at 312-222-4264.

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