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Medicare plan causing frustration

Friday, February 3, 2006

With a new Medicare prescription drug plan creating widespread confusion among pharmacists and senior citizens across the country, Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN) is preparing to introduce legislation that will allow seniors to obtain the medications they need.

Bayh and Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) will co-author the Medicare Prescription Emergency Guarantee Act, "designed to protect seniors from being forced to leave their pharmacies empty-handed," according to a Senate press release. Since the plan took effect on Jan. 1, incomplete enrollment information and uncertainty over which drugs are covered have forced some prescription drug users to go without the medications they need.

"The Medicare prescription drug plan has been poorly implemented and has left seniors and disabled Americans bewildered, frustrated and, in too many cases, without their medications," Bingaman said.

Brazil pharmacist Lynn Hostetler has experienced that frustration first-hand. He spent two-and-a-half hours on the phone Tuesday trying to confirm a patient's Medicare enrollment, and said he spoke to a colleague with 22 phone lines tied up due to Medicare-related questions.

Many of Hostetler's customers are unsure of their enrollment because they haven't received a letter of notification. The owner of Lynn's Pharmacy in Brazil tries to meet his clients' needs however he can-- he said he can quickly determine the status of a customer's Medicare enrollment with or without an ID card, and has charged prescriptions to the accounts of regular customers until he determines where to direct the bill.

Confusion over the new Medicare prescription plan has caused Hostetler considerable stress in the past few weeks, he admitted. The pharmacist said his customers, many of whom are well-acquainted with the occasional snag in their Medicare paperwork, have made it easier.

"The blessing here is that people understand it," he said. "They're not belligerent. They're not angry. They've been extremely patient and empathetic."

According to Bayh, the passage of the Medicare Prescription Emergency Guarantee Act would serve to alleviate much of the confusion surrounding Medicare prescription coverage and ensure that Indiana residents have access to the medications they require.

"Hundreds of Hoosiers have contacted my office confused over the new program, with some reporting that they were unable to purchase their much-needed medications," Bayh said. "They deserve better than that."

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