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Enrollment Grows for Medicare Drug Benefit

Location: Washington, DC

Enrollment Grows for Medicare Drug Benefit

83 Percent Now Covered in First Congressional District

Washington, DC - Congresswoman Heather Wilson is welcoming another 10,000 New Mexicans to the new Medicare prescription drug benefit.

An estimated 83 percent of people on Medicare in New Mexico's First Congressional District now have prescription drug coverage, including those covered by the Federal Employees Health Benefit Program and Veterans who have TRICARE.

The Medicare Drug program is set up to subsidize retiree plans that are as good or better than Medicare if seniors want to continue with their existing plan. The Medicare Drug program also allows seniors to get their drug benefit combined with their managed health care plan if they wish -- called Medicare Advantage. With their strong presence in north-central New Mexico, 36% of seniors in the Albuquerque area have chosen to get their prescription drug coverage through Medicare Advantage plans, primarily those operated by Lovelace and Presbyterian.

"Over the past month another 10,000 people signed up in New Mexico. That's good progress. I'm encouraged that more and more seniors are looking at their options and seeing this opportunity to help them save money on prescriptions," said Wilson. "We need to keep helping seniors enroll, and make sure they know to get the extra help for those with limited incomes."

In a statement released last week, AARP CEO Bill Novelli said, "AARP is encouraged that enrollment in the Medicare prescription drug program remains strong. Today (March 23, 2006), Medicare announced that an additional 1.9 million beneficiaries signed up for a Medicare prescription drug plan over the past five weeks. With the Medicare drug program, more older Americans than ever before have access to affordable prescription drugs.

"The focus right now needs to be on helping people, not playing politics. Discouraging enrollment is a disservice to the millions who could be saving money on prescription drug bills," he said.

The initial enrollment period ends on May 15th.

Medicare covers most seniors and many disabled Americans. All people eligible for Medicare qualify for the new prescription drug coverage, the first offered by Medicare in the history of the program. Enrollment began on November 15, 2005, and coverage began on January 1, 2006.

"Roughly 83 percent of those eligible for the program in this Congressional district are already signed up or covered by a plan equal to or better than Medicare. That's pretty remarkable given that this is a voluntary program and nobody has to sign up if they don't want to. We will keep working to make sure that everyone who wants to sign up can sign up," said Wilson.

Wilson has made helping seniors with the prescription drug program a priority for her office through mailed information, dozens of senior town halls, partnerships with other helping agencies and employers, Medicare fairs with providers and even telephone calls to constituents offering assistance. Her office has helped hundreds of constituents with Medicare Part D. The effort has clearly paid off as seniors in New Mexico's first district have found plans that work in substantially higher numbers compared to most other Congressional districts.

Wilson has visited pharmacists and groups of seniors every week since the plan went into effect on January 1, 2006.

"Most problems we saw in the first weeks of the program have been worked out. While there were a lot of choices, seniors with help from family and helping organizations are working through those choices and finding plans that give them the coverage and peace of mind they need," Wilson said.

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