Insurers line up to offer prescription drug benefit
WASHINGTON – Choices, choices. That’s what senior citizens and the disabled will face in the coming months as they select a private plan to cover a portion of their prescription drug costs under Medicare.The Bush administration announced Friday that 10 insurers have been approved nationwide to provide prescription drug coverage through the Medicare benefit that kicks in Jan. 1.In addition, several other companies have been approved to provide coverage on a regional basis. As a result, beneficiaries will have at least 11 prescription drug plans to choose from, and in larger states, such as New York and Texas, beneficiaries can choose from among 20 plans.The options are even greater when considering that beneficiaries could also opt to get their drug coverage through Medicare Advantage Plans, which operate like a health maintenance organization, and offer more comprehensive coverage than just a drug benefit.Federal officials said the array of options is good news for beneficiaries.”The competition between these organizations has resulted in lower costs than expected,” said Dr. Mark McClellan, administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. “Forty-nine states will have a drug plan with a premium below $20.”The only state with a plan that did not offer a premium below $20 a month was Alaska.There is no single Medicare drug plan. Instead, private insurers will offer an array of coverage options. Customers will pay some of the costs through premiums and copays. The government also subsidizes some of the costs. The tab for the federal government for the program’s first 10 years is now estimated at $720 billion.”It’s really clear the drug benefit has attracted many, many businesses from throughout the country,” said Tricia Neuman, vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation, which conducts health care research. “What’s less clear and really important is what they’re offering and how seniors will respond to the opportunity to enroll.”The program was designed to help most Medicare recipients save money. However, each person’s situation will vary, depending on factors, such as health and drug usage.Companies can begin marketing their plans on Oct. 1. Enrollment begins Nov. 15.McClellan said that his agency would try, beginning in mid-October, to help Medicare beneficiaries select the plan that best fits their needs.Medicare provides health benefits to nearly 42 million elderly and disabled Americans. The new drug benefit is voluntary.
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