December 1, 2004
By Derek Hunter
If the government offered you hundreds of dollars with no
strings attached, would you take it? How about if it was willing to
throw in an extra $600 if you were low income? Nobody would
knowingly walk away from that. Unfortunately, that's exactly what
millions of senior citizens will do if they don't sign up for the
Medicare Drug Discount Card by Dec. 31. A survey by The
Polling Company, a Republican firm, shows that 31 percent of
seniors on Medicare say they haven't enrolled in the MDDC program
because of "criticism of the Medicare bill."
The MDDC program was part of 2003's Medicare Modernization Act and
was one of only a few bright spots in the entire law. It allows
seniors who lack prescription drug coverage to sign up for one of
many cards that will give them discounts of up to 90 percent on
their drug costs for an annual enrollment fee that never exceeds
Low-income seniors - those with incomes of less than $1,047 per
month for an individual and $1,405 per month for a couple - qualify
for additional benefits. They can enroll in any card they choose
and Medicare will pay the enrollment fee. Also, the card of their
choosing will come with a $600 credit to help cover the cost of
their drugs. The credit will cost them nothing and require them to
pay only a small co-pay of 5 percent to 10 percent.
As if that weren't
enough, many cards offer what is called "wrap-around coverage" from
the pharmaceutical companies. That means if a senior's drug costs
exceed the $600 subsidy, they will be able to purchase 30-day
supplies of most, if not all, of their prescriptions for a flat
rate of $12 to $15 each. In fact, with this wrap-around coverage,
the MDDC offers prescription drugs to low-income seniors at prices
lower than those in price-controlled Canada. (Even seniors with
incomes above the level set by Medicare can qualify, based on need,
for this benefit from drug manufacturers. If you are having trouble
affording your prescriptions, talk to your doctor or the
manufacturer of your prescriptions for more information.)
This is a situation in which low-income seniors and those without
prescription drug coverage can't lose. Yet many of those seniors
are going to miss out if they don't sign up for the cards by the
end of this year.
The $600 is an annual subsidy placed on the card of a senior's
choosing. Any unspent amount is automatically rolled over to the
next year. This will allow seniors who don't spend the full amount
this year to save even more next year. But many seniors haven't
taken advantage of the MDDC either because they don't know about it
or have been misinformed. They are, essentially, throwing away free
Luckily, it's not too late. As long as they enroll by the end of
the year, seniors who qualify for the $600 annual subsidy will
receive it for this year. It will then roll over into next year,
meaning they can begin 2005 with $1,200 for prescriptions in their
There have been many criticisms about the MDDC. Some opponents
claim there are too many choices or that the cards are difficult to
sign up for. This is an insult to the intelligence of seniors.
Unfortunately, though, these critics have managed to discourage
seniors from enrolling, which only hurts the needy.
And needlessly so: The cards are not overly confusing, and no
senior without drug coverage - regardless of income - will pay more
with them. In fact, enrollees will save money.
Any senior without drug coverage should investigate these cards. In
just 15 or 20 minutes, they can save hundreds, if not thousands, of
dollars on prescriptions. Go to www.medicare.gov or call 1-800
Medicare. But most importantly, don't allow yourself to be
intimidated or discouraged from asking.
Already 5.8 million seniors are saving money with the Medicare Drug
Discount Cards, but there are more who should be saving.
The clock is ticking. If you're a senior - or know one - find out
if you have money coming. It's the healthy choice you shouldn't
walk away from.
Derek Hunter is a researcher in the Center for Health Policy
Studies at The Heritage Foundation.
First Appeared on FoxNews.com
If the government offered you hundreds of dollars with no strings attached, would you take it? How about if it was willing to throw in an extra $600 if you were low income? Nobody would knowingly walk away from that.
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