Medicare Information and Misinformation
Recent surveys and public opinion polls indicate America's seniors are still learning more about the Medicare prescription drug law Congress and the President enacted last year. In fact, the Department of Health and Human Services - which administers Medicare - is making a major effort to inform seniors about the improvements to the program under this new law. You may have seen one of the television public service announcements produced by Medicare simply titled, "Same Medicare. More benefits." These television announcements echo the assertion made by Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson in a letter he sent to seniors earlier this year, in which he wrote, "It is important to know that Medicare will remain the health care program you have always counted on - only now with more benefits."
At the same time, outside organizations also are spreading the word about the new Medicare law. Most are constructive and accurate. For example, the AARP - which endorsed the new Medicare law as it was being considered by Congress - is keeping its multi-million person membership updated on recent Medicare news and dispelling rumors and hoaxes that have arisen in connection with the new Medicare law. For example, they've warned seniors to beware of anyone trying to sell them Medicare prescription drug discount cards. The official cards - not available until later this year - will carry a "Medicare Rx-Approved" logo.
Unfortunately, while many groups are providing seniors with helpful and honest information, others are not. One organization dubbed "Families USA" is posing as a non-partisan, neutral advocacy organization seeking to "inform" seniors about the new Medicare law. In reality, their intentions aren't quite that noble. In fact, they're nothing short of misleading. Throughout the next several months, this organization will conduct what it is calling a nationwide "Road Show" on which it will provide extensive information - or, more likely, misinformation - about the new Medicare law. So, be ready.
In the meantime, for detailed and legitimate information on what the new, voluntary Medicare prescription drug benefit actually would mean for seniors, there are a variety of ways to obtain official material. Visit the Medicare website at www.medicare.gov or ask questions toll-free at 1-800-MEDICARE. I have also produced an informational brochure on the new law, which you may request by calling my office toll-free at 1-800-582-1001. Additionally, the AARP has developed what amounts to a vast clearinghouse of Medicare and prescription drug information, which can be found at www.aarp.org or by calling toll-free, 1-888-OUR-AARP.
For your information, the next major step in implementing the new Medicare prescription drugs will be taken later this year. The Medicare-approved prescription drug discount cards I mentioned earlier will be available in the early part of the summer. The discount card with Medicare's seal of approval can help you save 10 to 25 percent on prescription drugs until the full Medicare prescription drug benefit starts in 2006. Those in the greatest need will have the greatest help available to them. For example, if your income is no more than $12,569 for a single person, or no more than $16,862 for a married couple, you might qualify for a $600 credit on your discount card to help pay for your prescription drugs. As with the entire prescription drug benefit, enrolling in the drug card program is your choice. Medicare is sending information directly to seniors with details about how to enroll.
The new law seems complex, and in many ways, it is. But as the official Medicare television announcement states, it's really the same Medicare with more benefits. As the law is implemented over the next few years, there will be a great deal of both information AND misinformation provided to millions of seniors nationwide. Knowing how to tell the difference between the two will be the key. Should you have any questions about any of it, my office is here to help, as is Medicare itself. Don't hesitate to contact us.