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For Immediate Release
April 24, 2006
Media Contact:
Kevin Enright 410-576-6357

CONSUMER ALERT:
MEDICARE PART D DEADLINE APPROACHING

Everyone knows that if you do not pay your taxes by April 15th there is a penalty. Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran wants everyone on Medicare to know that May 15, is as important a date as April 15th. If you are on Medicare and do not have creditable drug coverage you could be assessed a penalty if you do not sign up for the new Part D prescription drug coverage by May 15, 2006.

There is an exception for people on Medicare who already have a separate prescription plan (possibly through a retirement insurance plan or union or HMO) that provides what the government calls “creditable coverage.” “Creditable coverage” means the coverage is as good as or better than what you can get from the Medicare Part D plans. Private insurance companies, unions, etc. that provide prescription drug coverage should have sent letters or notices to participants stating whether their coverage is creditable. If a person with creditable coverage later loses that coverage, they can sign up for a Medicare Part D plan at the next enrollment period with no penalty. However, unless a person on Medicare has creditable coverage, after May 15th he or she will have to pay a 1 percent higher premium for each month that they delay signing up for a Part D plan.

With the next enrollment period not starting until November 15, 2006 anyone who could have signed up before May 15 but did not will have to pay at least 6 percent more for whatever policy they eventually choose.  That is a life time penalty, not a one time penalty. A person who waits until November 15th to sign up will have to pay 6% more for every month that they remain in the Part D program for the rest of their life. That could add up to a very large penalty so Attorney General Curran is urging seniors and others on Medicare to act promptly. “Even if you are unhappy with the Part D plan, even if you are working to get it changed, don’t wait to sign up if you are eligible because the penalty is real and it is approaching fast,” says Curran.

Everyone knows the number of Part D choices can be overwhelming, but the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have an internet web site that can help identify the best three or four plans for someone based on the medications they need, the costs, what pharmacy they want to use, and other criteria. The web site is at www.medicare.gov . Medicare also has a call center available at 1-800-MEDICARE that can assist in choosing and enrolling in a Part D plan.

Help is also available locally in every county of the State. Attorney General Curran urges Medicare beneficiaries to call their local Senior Health Insurance Counseling Program (commonly called the SHIP program), which provides counseling about all kinds of Medicare issues, including prescription drugs. The SHIP counseling centers are located in each local aging agency. If you do not know the number for your local agency, call 1-800-AGE-DIAL to receive the correct local telephone number.

You may have heard that the deadline will be extended. There was discussion of that in Congress, but it now appears that the deadline will not be extended so don’t delay.

   

Attorney General of Maryland 1 (888) 743-0023 toll-free / TDD: (410) 576-6372
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