Drug benefit confuses many

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 14, 2005

DEMOPOLIS-Medicare’s new prescription drug plan has not gotten the positive reaction many had hoped for. A poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health stated 20 percent of the elderly will participate, and about twice as many, 43 percent, said they are still not sure. Thirty-seven percent said they do not want the new coverage, according to the survey.

Enrollment begins on Tuesday Nov. 15 for the voluntary benefit, which will be effective on Jan. 1.

CVS pharmacist Ronnie O’Neal, of Demopolis, said the program is not completely clear to most people. When the system is put into practice and the problems are worked out, he said it would be successful.

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“The system is really complicated right now,” O’Neal said. “I think it is going to be very helpful for some people.”

Greensboro pharmacist Frank Reynolds, who owns Frank’s Pharmacy, said he would also work to make the plan move forward. However, he also felt there would be speed bumps in the early stages.

“We’re going to do the best we can to help out with this,” Reynolds said. “I think everybody is going to be happy with it. There are just going to be a lot of problems to work out in the early stages.”

The people who will benefit most from the program, O’Neal said, were those who had the most prescriptions.

“If somebody takes a lot of medicine, it will definitely help,” O’Neal said. “If somebody doesn’t, it will still help them some because they will get the discount.”

The fact that the program was coming has been no secret, Reynolds said. It is the plan behind the idea that has created confusion.

“Everybody in the community knows it is coming, I think they just want to know how it is going to work,” Reynolds said. “I’m not sure they have completely figured out who is going to pay for it yet.”

The program was passed by Congress in 2003 to allow Medicare, the insurance program for the elderly and disabled, to oversee companies that offer discount drug plans. Before then, Medicare did not cover most prescription drugs, leaving many older Americans struggling to meet their rising cost.

Wall Street analysts have said they expect about 29 million of the nation’s 42 million enrollees to sign up, but some drug makers have expressed doubts.

Most of the problems are due to confusion about the program. Many elderly people do not understand it and therefore, choose not to participate.

Many of the 802 people participating in the Harvard survey, all age 65 or older, said they were unsure how the benefit worked. Sixty-one percent said they did not understand it “at all” or “very well.” Another 35 percent said they understood it “somewhat” or “very” well.

The outline of the program will offer those who enroll a plan for $37 a month with a $250 deductible up to $2,500. However, from there the program takes many twists and turns that are difficult for pharmacists to explain to their customers.