Medicare: What's Available And How Do You Get It?

Reporter: Shannon Samson

New Media Producer: Kerry Corum

Starting in June, drug discount cards will be available to seniors as a first step in the Medicare Modernization Act. And figuring out how to enroll, or if it's even worth it, is enough to give some seniors a headache.

U.S. Congressman Tim Johnson says he didn't call a series of meetings in his district to sell seniors on the new Medicare prescription drug program, just to tell them how to access what is available."Some parts of it I would like to include that weren't. Some parts that were included that I wish weren't included. But on balance, it provides for the first time in the United States of America prescription drug benefits for senior citizens."

Now, if only it were easy for them to understand how to get those benefits. Pat Williams tells us, "I'm terribly confused. I don't know what to do and no one seems to be able to explain it very well."

The discount drug card offers price breaks on more than 200 classes of drugs and discounts on various medical supplies.

To qualify, beneficiaries may not have drug coverage from other sources. A $600 credit is available for some Medicare beneficiaries - individuals making about $12,000 a year or less, and couples making about $16,000 or less.

The card is available from June 2004 through January first 2006, which is when the new Medicare drug benefit becomes available.

Mary Jo Birley says, "I think they've created a monster here. I'm more confused than when I came." Speakers at the meeting say it is a monster that can be tamed. Seniors just need to know where to go for help.

Kelly Dehlinger of the Senior Health Insurance Program says, "Call our toll free number, get with someone, one of our 800 line operators who can ask them all the right questions, get the information from them and tell them what their options are."

Because seniors do have options, especially in Illinois, where state prescription discount programs exist that may have more to offer an individual than the Medicare plan. Illinois' Senior Health Insurance Program (SHIP) can be reached toll free at 800-548-9034.

Residents of other states can call to get the number for their SHIP office, or anyone can call 1-800-MEDICARE to ask questions or enroll in the drug discount program.