Sunday, October 23, 2005


Cover story of today's Newsday:

The government's roll-out of its $40-billion-a-year Medicare prescription drug plan has hit another snag.

People trained to help seniors figure out which plan to choose under the new program said they don't have the pricing information they need and seniors are scratching their heads in confusion.

Earlier this week, Dr. Mark McClellan, head of the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, launched a prescription drug plan finder designed to help those on Medicare plug in specific financial information and prescription needs so they can determine which plans are best for them. The tool is available on and is also used by those trained to counsel seniors.

But a crucial piece of data -- pricing information on the drugs -- is still not available...

"People are asking questions and we don't know the answers," said Jim, who is one of 9,000 customer service representatives hired to answer questions at 1-800-Medicare. Jim, who asked that his last name not be used, said he and his colleagues joke that "it's kind of the same way FEMA is run; I guess we're using the same playbook."...

Seniors have also received a booklet in the mail, but it's making them crazy:

"You have to sit down and have a whole day to read it," Susan Tasker, of Greenport, said of the booklet. At this point, the 78-year-old who is on four medications said she plans to stay with her current drug plan. "That's just too much book," she said.

Betty Jean Thomas of Freeport, who is trying to parse the plans for her mother, who is on both Medicaid and Medicare, agreed. "It's really bad. You have to think on it. You have to go through it and spend a whole day on it," she said....

Murray Chernow, who lives in Rego Park and Deerfield Beach, Fla., who called the booklet "a tome," said he is meeting with a private health insurance representative to discuss his options....

And the booklet misleads recipients about the prices of some plans, as I told you a couple of weeks ago.

Can these people do anything right?

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