(50PlusPrime) SOUTHFIELD, MICHIGAN --
The passage of the Medicare Prescription Drug Improvement and Modernization Act of 2003 created new choices for older adults interested in saving money on their prescription drugs.
Medicare participants, who are not also on Medicaid, can choose to purchase a Medicare-approved discount card by signing up with one of the companies that received Medicare approval. The Area Agency on Aging 1-B (AAA 1-B) has analyzed various aspects of the new Medicare approved discount cards, in comparison with other options. Below are answers to several commonly asked questions, which I have received over the past several months:
What is the best way to research my options in order to choose the Medicare Prescription Drug Card that best suits my needs?
The Medicare hotline 1-800-MEDICARE or 1-800-633-4227 and the Medicare website www.medicare.gov/maddc/home.asp have detailed information on most of the Medicare prescription drug cards available. In addition, the Area Agency on Aging 1-B’s Medicare Medicaid Assistance Program can be reached at 1-800-803-7174, Monday – Friday, from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm, to assist individuals in researching the most appropriate card.
According to Medicare, the best time to call 1-800-MEDICARE is on the weekends and during the week between 6 pm and 6 am. However, they do answer calls 24 hours a day. The AAA 1-B tested the 1-800-MEDICARE hotline eight times. In six out of eight calls, the representatives answered all questions and were very helpful.
When do I need to sign up for a card?
There is no deadline to sign up for the discount cards. However, the drug card program will end December 31, 2005 and the new Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit will begin on January 1, 2006. You can renew or switch to a different card for next year during an open enrollment period from November 15, 2004 to December 31, 2004.
Can I obtain more than one card?
No. You may only sign up for one Medicare sponsored card. You may, however, choose to participate in other non-Medicare drug card programs, such as your county discount card.
What is the enrollment fee?
The annual enrollment fee for these cards ranges between $0 and $30. The average cost is $23. There is no correlation between the annual fee of each card and the amount of potential savings they provide.
Do drug costs stay consistent when using these cards?
The total discounted cost of the top nine drugs most often prescribed for older adults has decreased for 25 of the 33 cards since information became available on the Medicare website. For example, the total cost of a 30-day supply of the top nine prescribed drugs with the AARP Prescription Discount Card on May 8 was $1,564.45. One week later the price was reduced to $1,204.39, demonstrating a cut in cost of 24%. As of July 22, 2004, the price was $1,129.91, exhibiting a total cut of 28%. This trend is consistent with many other cards. Average savings have increased 15% with a range of 1-35%.
The range in cost for the top nine drugs using a Medicare discount drug cards are:
• As of May 6, 2004 the combined cost ranged from $1,092.63 - $1,684.59.
• As of May 26, 2004 the combined cost ranged from $1,092.63-$1,044.19.
• As of June 17, 2004 the combined cost ranged from $978.03 - $1,254.72.
• As of July 22, 2004, the combined cost ranged from $1,006.43 - $1,287.92.
The top nine drugs, according to Families USA, Out of Bounds: Rising Prescription Drug Prices for Seniors, July 2003, are: Lipitor 10 mg; Norvasc 5 mg; Fosamax 70 mg; Plavix 75 mg; Prilosec 20 mg; Celebrex 200 mg; Furosemide 40 mg; Zocor 20 mg; and Prevacid 30 mg.
Can I be assured that the card I sign up for today will offer the same drugs next month?
The sponsors of each card have the ability to change the formulary, or list of drugs covered, every seven days. The AAA 1-B compared the top forty drugs prescribed to older adults on the formulary list of each card on June 4 and again on July 22 and the following changes were noted:
• Eighty-eight percent (29 cards) removed two to six drugs from their formulary.
• Six percent (three cards) placed one to two drugs back on their formulary.
• There are currently only two Medicare discount cards that cover all of the top 40 drugs most often prescribed to older adults. However, all 36 cards provide savings for at least 32 of the top 40 medications. The average card provides discounts for 36 of the top 40 medications.
Is there additional low-income assistance?
Low-income Medicare beneficiaries may receive a $600 credit on their discount card in 2004 and 2005. To qualify this year, annual income cannot exceed $12,569 for a single person or $16,862 or a married couple. The annual enrollment fee will be waived for qualified low-income beneficiaries. Low-income beneficiaries are not eligible for the $600 credit if they are already receiving prescription drug coverage from Medicaid, TRICARE for Life or an employer group health plan.
I live in Florida in the winter and in Michigan in the summer. Can I use one card in both states?
Every card available in Michigan, with the exception of two, is also available in Florida and in Arizona (another popular migration state) and has a significant network of participating pharmacies in those states. Priority Plus is not available in Florida and First Health Services Medicare Drug Discount Card is not available in Florida or Arizona.
I have heard that Costco offers significant savings on prescription drugs and you do not have to be a member. Is this true?
It is true that you do not have to be a Costco member to fill prescriptions at Costco. However, in most cases, the Medicare discount cards now offer a greater savings than Costco.
• As of July 22, the total cost at Costco for the top nine drugs: $1,185.69.
• Costco ranks 28th when compared to the savings of the 33 Medicare Prescription Discount Cards providing discounts on the top nine drugs in Region 1-B (range of $1,006.43 - $1,287.92).
• The lowest priced Medicare card offers 18% savings over Costco.
For more information about the Medicare prescription discount drug cards, please call the AAA 1-B at (800) 852-7795 or visit www.aaa1b.com. Complete survey results also can be found on the AAA 1-B website.