Many seniors missing out on free money

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 17, 2004

Senior citizens of modest incomes qualify for a $600 credit toward buying prescription drugs, under a new Medicare law.

The money is there and free, all a senior has to do is ask for it.

Irene Collins, executive director of Alabama Department of Senior Services who also serves on Gov. Bob Riley’s cabinet, said Thursday by phone, the deadline to apply is fast approaching.

&uot;Far too many seniors find it difficult to make ends meet,&uot; she said. &uot;Ask any senior citizen what their most important issue is and they will answer ‘the high cost of prescription drugs.’

Fortunately, we are undergoing a metamorphosis in our healthcare system.

Thanks to our congressional leaders, we are seeing the most substantial changes to Medicare since its inception in 1965 – the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003.&uot;

Collins said the first opportunity with the new act is to introduce the Medicare-approved Prescription Drug Discount Cards.

&uot;The overall economic value to the 600,000-plus Alabamians eligible to participate is estimated to be $145 million for the 18-month program,&uot; Collins said.

&uot;Approximately 52,115 of those beneficiaries are also eligible for up to $600 in transitional assistance in 2004 and 2005 because their incomes are less than $12,569 per year for individuals, or $16,862 for married couples.

Medicare will also pay their enrollment fees.&uot;

The Basics

The Medicare-approved Prescription Drug Discount Card program is available for all Medicare beneficiaries, except those with outpatient drug coverage through Medicaid, Collins said.

&uot;It is important to note that it is a voluntary program that is not a prescription drug benefit or insurance policy, but rather a temporary measure to provide some relief until the Medicare drug benefit is implemented in January 2006,&uot; she said.

&uot;The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid contracted with private companies to manage the Medicare-approved Prescription Drug Discount Cards.

Enrollment can cost no more than $30 annually, but many companies have reduced or even waived the enrollment fee.

Medicare beneficiaries can expect discounts of 10-25 percent off the retail price of many drugs.

Beneficiaries should do their homework and compare the cost savings among the 40 Medicare-approved Prescription Drug Discount Cards available to Alabamians.

After choosing a Medicare-approved card, a person can change cards from November 15 through December 31, 2004, she said.

Beneficiaries can change at any time during the year if there are certain special circumstances, such as a move outside the area served by their current discount card, enrollment in or dis-enrollment from a Medicare managed care plan or the discontinuation of a card.

Collins said ADSS is the state’s focal point for senior services and acts as the principal advocate for more than one million senior citizens and their caregivers. It provides vital services to Alabama’s seniors, such as: meals and nutrition education, transportation, home and community based care, caregiver support services, legal assistance, and the Alabama SenioRx program – just to name a few.

Call 1-800-AGE-LINE (243-5463) to reach your local Area Agency on Aging.

She said the more people who know about the program, the more who can take advantage of it, and now is the perfect time.

&uot;This is a super time for our seniors to give themselves a Christmas gift,&uot; she said. &uot;We encourage all the seniors 65 and older who are elgible to apply for some type of drug discount card.&uot;

She said as the population grows older, more and more news will be released.

&uot;As we go into 2005 you are going to be hear more about options for seniors, such as what is called Medicare Part D,&uot; she said.

&uot;All that information on Part D is coming out in bits and pieces from Washington.&uot;

Help is available

For more information on the program, local seniors can contact the South Central Alabama Development Commission at 1-800-AGE-LINE (800-243-5463) or visit them on the web at


n Does it cover your drugs?

One card may cover every drug you need but generally gives moderate discounts. Another card may cover only a few drugs you need, but gives greater discounts on your most expensive medications. Do your homework! You need to compare and choose based on what is most important to you.

n Does your local pharmacy accept it?

Find out what cards your local pharmacy accepts. You don’t want to have to drive miles for your prescriptions.

n What is the price of your prescriptions?

Medicare has a website where you can see which cards are offering your drugs and the different discounts. If you don’t have Internet access, you can get the same information by calling 1-800-Medicare (633-4227).

Once you have chosen a card, call the company offering the card to ask for an enrollment package.

If your income is less than $12,569 per year for individuals or $16,862 for married couples, you will want to apply for the $600 credit to use toward purchasing your medications. You apply for the $600 credit through the same company at the same time you apply for the card.

If you apply December 31, 2004, you should be able to receive the full $600 credit for 2004 and carry it over to add to the $600 credit for 2005.

If you wait until 2005 to enroll, your credit will be based on the month you enroll. The later you wait, the more your $600 credit for 2005 will be reduced.