Navigating the Medicare Rx Discount Maze
Experts say go slow and ask questions before choosing your card.
Ask Your Pharmacist
"The pharmacists knows what medications you are taking and
would be the best person with the best advice" on discount cards, says Mary
Ann Wagner, the president of the Pharmacy Care Alliance, a joint venture of the
National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS) and pharmacy benefit manager
at Express Scripts Inc. The alliance is set to market its own discount card
that some, though probably not all, big chain drug stores will honor, she
Wagner says that the NACDS is working to educate pharmacists
about the prescription discount card program so that they can answer
beneficiaries' questions. Still, big chains have worried that their busy
pharmacists could have trouble handing an onslaught of questions from confused
"That's a tremendous concern that all of the chains are
wrestling with," she says. The bottom line is that some pharmacies may be
willing to sit down and help you fill out your enrollment application, while
others may just hand you a pamphlet and tell you to call Medicare. "It
varies," Wagner says.
Send It In
Once you've checked out discounts, pharmacy locations,
low-income eligibility, and existing private drug coverage, you'll be ready to
mail in your application. Private sponsors will be responsible for notifying
Medicare when they sign you up in order to enforce the one-card-per-beneficiary
Experts warn to make your final decision and then send in a
single enrollment application. If you send in more, Medicare will lock you in
to the first one that is processed. "Only apply to one. This is not like
applying to college," Ginzler says.
After that, many seniors may have to 'go with the flow' on
their drug discounts. Remember that if your card winds up being less beneficial
than you hoped, you can apply for a new 2005 card starting in November 2004.
The program ends altogether in 2006, when the Medicare prescription drug
benefit kicks in.
"I don't think that there are any guarantees. We're all
learning," Wagner says.
AARP plans to offer a drug comparison worksheet to help seniors
itemize the drugs they use and how much they pay. The worksheet will be
available at www.aarp.org at the end of April.
Consumers Union and the California Health Care Foundation will
offer a report in mid April with information about prescription drug cards
nationwide. It can be found at www.calmedicareoptions.org.
Published March 25, 2004.