Saving Money Through Medicare Drug Card Discount Programs Might Cost You A Bit of Frustration - KTRE.com | Lufkin and Nacogdoches, Texas

Health Watch - 8/9/04

Saving Money Through Medicare Drug Card Discount Programs Might Cost You A Bit of Frustration

Sometimes Lillie Simmons feels like she's slowly going insane. In the past two months, she's spent hours trying to figure out which of more than two dozen medicare discount cards will help reduce her $600 a month prescription drug bill the most.

"Anything is easier than what this has been and today is a perfect example of it."

Today, once again, she's on the government's web site. She says the site is too confusing. She can't figure out how to get a list to compare discounted prices for the drugs she takes. She tries several other sites.

"None of these tells you which card is right for you."

Mrs. Simmons, who is 69, is comfortable with computers. She and her husband, Jay, run their own business, a lawn care service, and she often uses the Internet and e mail. Yet, she is stumped by this challenge. The government agency that administers the cards says help is a phone call away. Simmons called 1-800-MEDICARE, but says she got more frustration.

"It just rang and rang, or I got a busy signal."

Mrs. Simmons in fact has tried to call the 800 number several times.

"Due to a high number of calls, you will experience a long waiting time."

Today, though, is her lucky day. She reaches an operator, but after a 35 minute conversation, feels she's no closer to an answer.

Medicare officials told us that in three weeks, Mrs. Simmons will receive a list of the five or so cards that will save her the most money for her particular medications. But, there's a catch. She has to stay with the card she chooses for an entire year, even though her doctor might change her medicines and the card is free to change its prices every week.

Some seniors say the headache of getting the discount is not worth it. They want officials to simplify the system.

According to Dr. Mark McClellan, a Medicare and Medicaid Administrator, twenty thousand people a day are signing up, which is an indication that the system does not need to be changed.

"With the card, you can reduce your costs for brand name drugs by 15-20% or more, the generic drugs by 30-60 percent."

But, Lilly Simmons doubts whether she'll end up seeing that kind of savings. The process, she says, is simply too complicated.

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