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    Health Care Reform:

    Health Insurance & Affordable Care Act

    President Says American Seniors Need to Know Their Prescription Benefit Options

    Bush Starts to Promote Medicare Drug Benefit

    Critics of 'Means Test'

    About 28 million more beneficiaries won't be eligible for low-income benefits and will be asked to choose from several different insurance-company-administered drug plans by May 15, 2006. Seniors who sign up late will be forced to pay a penalty in the form of 1% of premiums for every month they are late, according to Medicare.

    The government is also relying on a network of doctors' groups, consumer organizations, and faith-based groups to campaign among seniors for the benefit.

    Robert M. Hayes, president of the Medicare Rights Center, warns that enrolling all of the 14 million low-income beneficiaries will be "a massive job."

    Hayes points to food stamps, Medicaid, and other low-income benefit plans, which historically have reached only 35% to 50% of the eligible beneficiaries. He is critical of a test that requires low-income seniors to show that they have assets of less than $11,500 for individuals and $23,000 for couples in order to qualify for extra subsidies.

    Such a 'means test' "historically is a very large barrier to people signing up. These are not the ways to up enrollment in a program," he tells WebMD.

    All 42 million Medicare beneficiaries are due to receive "Medicare and You" pamphlets by mail in October in anticipation of Part D enrollment season staring a month later. Bush officials say they plan on spending $300 million in fiscal 2005 on outreach efforts to seniors between now and the end of September.

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