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Medicare Part D sign up deadline approaching

Date: 11/24/2008

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD People receiving Medicare Part D coverage of their prescriptions need to know they have until to Dec. 31 to choose the plan that is best for them.

That was the message at a Nov. 12 press event in which health officials urged seniors to seek help to make sure they get the prescription plan they need.

Brian Golden, the regional director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, noted there are 47 plans from which seniors can choose.

"It's an embarrassment of riches," he said. He added that 82 percent of the people who receive Medicare benefits have a prescription plan and half of those have a plan through Medicare Part D.

Golden said that at the beginning of the program, critics thought Medicare Part D would be too expensive, but the program is costing far less because of the competition between the various plans.

"[It] has made a concrete difference in so many people's lives," he said.

Golden's advice to seniors was to contact a SHINE counselor through their Council on Aging or senior center to go over the plans or to log onto the Medicare Part D Web site at Seniors who do not have access to a computer can call 1-800-633-4227.

"Look long and hard over the various offerings," he advised.

According to information on the Web site, Medicare Part D is available for anyone on Medicare, but is not required. The program is designed to help seniors cope with unexpected drug expenses.

Carol Maloof, the acting Boston Regional Administrator, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, said Medicare Part D participants have a high level of satisfaction with the program and that most people eligible for the program "could not find a plan that would cost less."

Cathy Campbell, the outreach coordinator for the Prescription Advantage Plan, explained the state-sponsored plan is not part of Medicare Part D but can act as a supplement and can help pay for part of the Part D premium.

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno said, "Sometimes it's just a simple clarification to get the best possible plan."