Rush Is On To Meet Midnight Medicare Deadline
Time is running out for Medicare recipients to sign up for the new Medicare Part D drug plan. Confusion over the variety and cost of the many plans available have kept some elderly Californians from signing up.
Monday, May 15, 2006
The phones are ringing off the hook at the Health Insurance and Counseling Advocacy Program in Sacramento:
SOUND: Thank you for calling HICAP, how can I help you?
The counseling program is available to Californians around the state. Assistant manager of the Sacramento Region program, Margaret Reilly, says staff and volunteers have been getting lots of calls from people wanting to sign up for Medicare Part D:
Sometimes those calls are a little panicky, “I need to do it now!”, and indeed, they do, they need to do it now.
The deadline for signing up for Medicare Part D drug coverage is midnight tonight. The plan is designed to reduce prescription drug costs for Medicare recipients. All appointments at the counseling office are booked. Volunteers like Barbara Grossman have been seeing clients back-to-back:
We’ve been studying this since last summer and we still get shocked and confused from time to time, so you can imagine what the general public is going through.
Grossman doesn’t take a breather, as she waits for a client who is late. She begins making half a dozen return phone calls, to Medicare recipients who’ve left messages with questions:
Finally Grossman’s client, Aida Paulson, arrives, flustered and out of breath, and without all her materials. Grossman takes it in stride:
SOUND:First you got lost and now you don’t have everything….It’s been a nightmare, but you have no idea what it means to me to have your agency to help and guide me through this….Well, come on in….
There are 48 Medicare Part D plans available in this state. There are about 400 thousand eligible Californians who still have not signed up for a plan. But Medicare officials can help, even at this late date. The counseling agency’s Margaret Reilly urges people to call 1-800-Medicare before midnight tonight:
It’s a little like mailing your tax returns by midnight, if the tax return is postmarked by midnight, it’s on time. Well, if your call to Medicare is by midnight, you’re on time to enroll.
Even those who don’t have all their information, should call the 1-800-Medicare number, because Medicare will accept a partial application. Those who miss the deadline will have to wait until the next open enrollment period in November for a chance to sign up again. And they’ll have to pay a lifetime penalty of one percent a month for every month they delayed.