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Health Care Reform:

Health Insurance & Affordable Care Act

Last Chance for Seniors to Sign up Without a Penalty

Medicare Rx Drug Plan: Final Call

Company Charity Programs

Meanwhile, several drug makers have announced that they would continue charity programs providing free or discounted drugs to low-income people. Many companies had previously decided to cut off the programs for eligible seniors after May 15.

Legal questions were swirling in Washington about whether the programs could go forward without violating federal antikickback laws. But a ruling concluded that the plans can indeed go on.

Companies including Schering-Plough, AstraZeneca, Eli Lilly, GlaxoSmithKline, and Johnson & Johnson have all said their plans will continue. Pfizer and Bristol-Myers Squibb have not yet decided if they will keep their programs, a Senate aide tells WebMD.

Each company's plan is different; low-income seniors wanting to take advantage of the programs have to apply to each manufacturer separately.

Ian Spatz, Merck's vice president for public policy, says his company provides free drugs for seniors living at up to 400% of the federal poverty level. But coverage lasts only until January. "Then they might apply to us again," he says.

Bill Cunningham, director of the West Virginia Access to Benefits Coalition, notes that seniors questioning whether assistance will continue must contact companies individually to find out.

"If you as an individual can prove to most of the patient-assistance programs that the cost of your medical Part D program is more than you can afford, they will continue to provide you the product," he says.

Penalty Repeal?

Meanwhile, a growing number of lawmakers are signaling that Congress could revisit Medicare after the deadline passes and repeal penalties for late-comers next year.

Several Republicans tell WebMD that they support repealing financial penalties. Unenrolled seniors will begin a new sign-up period in November -- within a week of Congressional elections.

"I wouldn't be opposed to trying to help people out in that way," Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, tells WebMD. "But, for obvious reasons, people shouldn't take that as something to take to the bank."

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