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Cantwell, Bipartisan Coalition Introduce New Bill to Spare Seniors From Medicare Drug Plan's Late Enrollment Fees

Location: Washington, DC

Cantwell, Bipartisan Coalition Introduce New Bill to Spare Seniors From Medicare Drug Plan's Late Enrollment Fees

Legislation also provides funds for education and outreach efforts

Tuesday, one day after the deadline for seniors to enroll in the new Medicare prescription drug program, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) joined a bipartisan coalition of senators to introduce legislation eliminating the late enrollment penalty for the next five years. Without congressional action, all seniors who sign up after the deadline will face penalty fees for as long as they remain enrolled in the Medicare prescription drug program. Cantwell and her colleagues are pushing for immediate passage of this emergency legislation.

"America's seniors deserve an opportunity to choose the drug plan that fits them best without the threat of permanent penalty fees hanging over their heads," said Cantwell. "The bill we introduced today waives this arbitrary penalty, so that seniors make the choice that's best for them instead of feeling forced into making the wrong choice. Imposing an unnecessary fee on cash-strapped seniors is the last thing we should be doing. Instead, we need to turn our focus to reaching out to all seniors still struggling to understand their options. We need to pass this bill immediately to get seniors the help they need."

The legislation, introduced Tuesday by Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Max Baucus (D-MT) and co-sponsored by Cantwell, would waive the late enrollment fee for five years. The bill would also provide an additional $18 million for education and outreach efforts to help seniors not yet signed up. Companion legislation has been introduced in the House.

As of May 1, more than half of the seniors still deciding whether to enroll in the Medicare prescription drug program were unaware of the late enrollment penalty. As of April 1, only 38 percent of eligible enrollees in Washington state had voluntarily enrolled in a stand-alone Medicare Prescription Drug Program, compared to 42 percent nationwide. Currently, seniors who enroll after the deadline will face a penalty equal to one percent of the premium of the plan they eventually select for every month they delay.

Cantwell has worked for months to extend the enrollment deadline, end late fees, and provide additional resources help them reach out to seniors with insufficient drug coverage. Of the 548,000 Washingtonians now covered under the program, only 160,000—or 29 percent—were previously without prescription drug coverage, meaning that much more needs to be done to extend coverage to those whom the program was meant to help.

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