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Cooper Urges Officals to Do More to Help Seniors Confused by New Prescription Drug Options

Location: Washington, DC

OCTOBER 20, 2005

WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Representative Jim Cooper is urging federal officials to do more to help seniors who are trying to make smart decisions regarding the new Medicare prescription drug options.

"In the past two weeks, many seniors have called or written to me to express their frustration, confusion and apprehension over the new Medicare drug benefit that is scheduled to go into effect on January 1, 2006," Cooper said in a letter sent to Mark McClellan, Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

"Our nation's seniors are counting on the federal government to deliver to them a promised benefit, and it is the obligation of your agency to ensure that seniors get the help they need," Cooper added. "For many seniors, no other health care decision this year will be as important."

Everyone on Medicare is eligible for coverage under the new Medicare prescription drug coverage, signed into law in 2003. Seniors can sign up for coverage beginning November 15th through May 15th, 2006. Coverage begins January 1st. Under the new law, seniors may enroll in a plan offered by a private provider that contracts with the federal government. Seniors do not have to enroll in the new program and those who choose not to do so do not lose their current Medicare coverage.

In Tennessee, seniors have more than forty different plans from seventeen companies to choose from in determining what plan best fits their needs.

Trying to understand the detailed information of the many different options is what has seniors most worried, Cooper said. Seniors' concerns include:

* lack of any standardized, easy-to-understand comparisons of options based on the types of drugs being covered, the amount of premiums, co-pays and deductibles for each plan;
* high-pressure sales tactics from plans emphasizing a December 31st enrollment deadline, even if seniors do not understand a plan's full benefits;
* the consequences of making a mistake in choosing a plan, since seniors are unable to switch plans for a full year;
* no one to call for advice, with calls to 1-800-MEDICARE resulting in long delays.

Cooper said seniors also need help to make sure they do not become victims of fraud. "Seniors need to be warned about guarding personal information and ensuring that a plan is licensed," he stated. "Many seniors do not know that the drug benefit is voluntary and that opting not to join a plan will not result in a loss of their Medicare benefits."

Cooper urged CMS to notify him no later than November 1st as to how the agency intends to address the problems he outlined in his letter.

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