The government is ready to roll out its new Medicare-approved prescription discount drug card program, offering seniors and other beneficiaries discounts on many of the medications they use. With dozens of prescription discount cards set to hit the market next month, almost every expert -- and even Medicare itself -- is warning that choosing the right card is going to be confusing.
A February poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 68% of Medicare beneficiaries did not know that the bill authorizing the prescription drug discount card program had been signed into law, and that nearly as many did not understand what it contains.
What seniors can expect starting in April is a deluge of mailings and advertisements touting dozens of different prescription discount cards, offering savings on a range of prescription drugs.
Experts say that eligible seniors and their families should avoid any urge to "act now" on any one card, and instead take the time to figure out which card is best for them. Medicare beneficiaries, except those enrolled in Medicaid drug coverage, can start enrolling May 1 with discounts kicking in June 1.
But each beneficiary is limited to one card, and you can't make a change until the re-enrollment period starts in November.
"Don't rush. You shouldn't succumb to pressure," says Elinor Ginzler, AARP's manager for independent living and long-term care.
First off, beware of fraud. Medicare now reports discount card scams in 11 states, up from six several weeks ago. Officials point out that Medicare's rules prevent legitimate card sponsors from making telephone solicitations, so if you get a call, ignore it.
Medicare wants beneficiaries to consult its web site, www.medicare.gov, or its (800) MEDICARE hotline for information. "If you have any questions at all, call the number and they'll tell you who's legit," a Medicare spokesman tells WebMD.
AARP and other advocacy groups are setting up resources to help seniors figure out which drugs they take and how much they pay for them (see below for details.) With that information on hand, seniors can go to the web site where the government plans to launch a price comparison program displaying different discount cards' negotiated prices and other features. Operators at (800) MEDICARE will also have access to the site.
But the site will only tell you the maximum price a pharmacy can ask with a particular card in a particular area.
"What we are showing is not the lowest price you are paying with a card but what the highest price can be. That could end up being confusing," the spokesman says.