Job done, Medicare center closes

County opened it in Jan. to aid those switching plans


Mildred Hobbs was baffled.

Like many of the millions of senior citizens who switched from Medicaid to Medicare for prescription drug coverage, Hobbs, 87, struggled to make sense of the charts, drug lists and eligibility rules of the 47 plans open to Marylanders.

"I was confused at first because I didn't want to get mixed up in my prescriptions, I didn't know which way to go - even the pharmacist said there were so many companies that he didn't know which one to pick," Hobbs said.

So in April, the Linthicum resident sought help at the Anne Arundel County Medicare Part-D Assistance Center, which the county opened in January in response to a flood of requests for assistance from senior citizens.

"My daughter and I went down to the center, and they explained it to us and we understood it all," said Hobbs, who suffers from hypertension.

Hobbs got her Medicare prescription drug card Saturday and will begin getting prescriptions under her new plan in June. She spends about $750 annually on her medication.

The center completed its mission yesterday and closed, having provided help to about 9,000 county residents, according to Susan Knight, director of the center. About 50,000 residents in Anne Arundel are eligible for Medicare, Knight said.

Many of the pleas for assistance were received by County Executive Janet S. Owens, who likened the complexity of the plan to the federal tax code.

"The county executive was getting so many calls and people stopping her on the street saying they didn't know what to do," said Rhonda Wardlaw, a spokeswoman for Owens. "She realized the urgency to have some kind of resource to help people."

Between walk-in visitors and callers, the four staffers and 13 volunteers at the center, which was located in the county Department of Aging and Disabilities office in Annapolis, received about 60 inquiries a day. And for the senior citizens trying to navigate the various plans - often on the Internet from their homes - the common denominator was confusion.

"We had everybody, from folks who knew nothing about Medicare Part D to people who just needed some extra assistance, and lots of people between those extremes," Knight said. "We were prepared, and we worked steadily and talked them through their confusion."

Among the busiest days was May 15, the deadline for enrollment. The staff assisted about 100 people and stayed open an extra 2 1/2 hours, until 7 p.m.

Knight said helping each person determine his or her eligibility and select a plan took about an hour.

Although the deadline has passed and the center is closed, residents can contact senior centers throughout the county for assistance with new eligibility or with questions about existing plans.

From Nov. 15 through Dec. 31, seniors can change or enroll in plans during the annual open enrollment period for a plan effective date of Jan. 1 of the next year.

"I expect the open enrollment period to be even busier because there were those who didn't contact us and those who might want to change plans," Knight said. "We will be out in the county again helping people compare plans."

Information: 410-222-4464 or 800-492-2499.

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