Sunday, June 11, 2006

Republican drug plan recipe for confusion and chaos.

As the months pass the munificent Medicare drug benefit granted by Our Dear Embattled Leader has not become anymore comprehensible than it was before people signed up.
In Washington, Bush administration officials say Medicare's new prescription drug program is humming along smoothly, filling more than three million prescriptions a day and cutting costs by an average of 50 percent for each beneficiary. But here in the Rio Grande Valley, the picture is different.

Many patients say they have difficulty getting the drugs they need. Pharmacists, swamped with questions and complaints from beneficiaries, have run into many practical problems as they try to navigate a complex program administered by dozens of prescription drug plans, each with its own policies and procedures. Doctors and pharmacists are struggling to figure out which drugs are covered by which plans.

"Intellectually, the program is a good idea," said Dr. E. Linda Villarreal, a former president of the Hidalgo-Starr County Medical Society. "But there's been total chaos and confusion among most of my patients, who do not understand the system and how to work it."
If anything it is becoming more difficult as many seniors are now falling into the George W Bush Memorial Donut Hole where they have to pay full price until they get to the other side, if they survive.
Jose M. Flores, a Medicare beneficiary who lives outside McAllen, used the new drug benefit four times from January to April to purchase Byetta, an injectable medicine for diabetes. Each time he paid $40.

So when he went to the pharmacy on May 25, he was dismayed to be told that he owed $167.56 for the next month's supply. Mr. Flores had reached the notorious gap in Medicare's drug coverage. He had to pay the full price of Byetta. His Medicare drug plan paid nothing.

"It's almost useless," said Mr. Flores, a 66-year-old school bus mechanic who was interviewed at his home in La Joya, Tex. "I'm paying the premium, but not getting protection."

In coming months, millions of beneficiaries will have similar experiences, as the cost of their drugs reaches the initial coverage limit of $2,250. Like Mr. Flores, they will have to pay the full cost of each medicine until their out-of-pocket costs reach $3,600. At that point, Medicare coverage resumes, paying 95 percent of the cost of each prescription.

On May 2, Mr. Flores paid $20 for Plavix, a blood thinner used to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke, and Medicare paid $109.62. But when he refilled the prescription at the end of May, he was in the coverage gap, so he had to pay the full amount, $129.62.
This is Texas where they have 47 plans to choose from. If things are working out better in your state, congratulations.

Remember in November.


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