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The New Medicare Prescription Drug Plans

Sign Up Begins, Start Saving In January

For those in Medicare who have been struggling to afford the medications their doctors prescribe, help is finally here. Starting on November 15, beneficiaries can begin enrolling in the new Medicare prescription drug plans.

For the first time in the program's history, Medicare will help pay the costs of prescription drugs. AARP CEO Bill Novelli explains, "Until now, Medicare did not cover prescription drugs. Now it does. We all know that these drugs are an essential part of disease prevention and treatment. But their steadily rising costs have been a problem for millions of people, and have prevented some consumers from getting the medications they need. Medicare prescription drug plans are a welcome relief for millions of older and disabled Americans."

Regardless of where you live, Medicare prescription drug plans are being offered in many shapes and sizes, and extra help is available for those with limited incomes. With the assistance of Medicare and State Health Insurance Counseling Programs, there are many resources to help people understand how the coverage works and how to select a plan that meets their individual needs.

Novelli said, "Whether it is the convenience of having your prescriptions filled at your neighborhood pharmacy, coverage for the specific medications you take, or the peace of mind from knowing that you will be covered against high drug costs in the future, millions of Americans will soon have significant relief."

Although savings will start on January 1st for those enrolled in a Medicare drug plan, AARP reminds beneficiaries that there is no rush to enroll. "The enrollment deadline is not until May 15, 2006, so there is plenty of time to review all of the plan offerings, talk to health insurance counselors and Medicare, and select the plan that helps you save the most money," said Novelli.

Advocates offer some simple advice that will help beneficiaries select a plan. AARP recommends that beneficiaries or their family member write down all of their medications and their prescribed dosages. This will help you compare plan offerings.

Those who do not enroll by May 2006 may be subject to a late enrollment penalty of 1% of the monthly premium each month. Everyone with current prescription drug coverage that Medicare determines to be 'at least as good as' standard Medicare coverage and therefore 'creditable,' will not be subject to a penalty if they don't sign up with a Part D plan.

According to Novelli, "For those who are healthy the plans will protect you in the future. We all know that the older you get, the more medications you are likely to take. With a late enrollment penalty, signing up today could be much less costly than waiting."

From the Medicare website to state health insurance counseling programs in all 50 states, resources are in place to make enrollment easier. Medicare also has a toll-free number 1-800-MEDICARE or 1-800-633-4227, where people can receive all the information they need. Information is also available online at www.medicare.gov.

For the phone number of your state health insurance counseling program, go to www.shiptalk.org or call 800-677-1116.

AARP's free publication "The New Medicare Prescription Drug Coverage: What You Need to Know" is available in Spanish and English to members and non-members alike. This easy to understand resource will help people learn how the new plans work and how to find enrollment assistance. To order the publication, simply call 1-888-687-2277 or visit www.aarp.org. AARP's toll-free operators can also help beneficiaries and their families get the information they need.

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