Medicare Update 2005: Drug Benefits

WebMD Live Events Transcript

On Jan. 1, 2006, a new Medicare drug benefit will begin: "Part D" (as in "Drug"). Sign up for Part D coverage begins on Nov. 15, 2005. How is Part D different than the discount card you may have now? Why should you sign up? What will be covered? What will it cost and what can you save? Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Mark B. McClellan, MD, PhD, joined us on Sept. 19, 2005 and answered your questions about this new Medicare drug coverage and more.

The opinions expressed herein are the guests' alone and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

MODERATOR:
Welcome to WebMD Live. Today our guest is Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Mark B. McClellan, MD, PhD.

Welcome back to WebMD Live, Dr. McClellan. Thank you for joining us today.

MCCLELLAN:
It's great to be back with WebMD again. This is a wonderful opportunity to answer questions and share new information about our nation's health care programs.

MODERATOR:
Let's start today by talking about the new Medicare Part D program. This is the program designed to help participants pay for prescription drugs. Who will be eligible for these benefits?

MCCLELLAN:
Everyone in Medicare is eligible for the new prescription drug coverage. There is extra help available for people with limited means, about one-third of all of our beneficiaries, and people who have good coverage now from a retiree plan can get new help in supporting that coverage.

MODERATOR:
What will be covered under the new benefit?

MCCLELLAN:
The drug benefit will cover all medically necessary drugs, including both brand name and generic medicines. You will be able to get your medicines at a convenient pharmacy or by mail order.

MODERATOR:
When will this program go into effect?

MCCLELLAN:
There are some important dates coming up. The drug benefit goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2006, and we will be providing this drug benefit on schedule nationwide.

In early October people with Medicare will get their Medicare and You handbook, which will provide more information about how to take advantage of this new voluntary coverage. People will also start seeing information from the prescription drug plan about the coverage they offer.

"We're going to provide lots of help for people to take advantage of the new benefits."

Two other important dates: in mid-October people will be able to go to medicare.org or to our link through WebMD to get specific information about the drug plan option that is best for them, based on their own needs and preferences. This is a much more personal approach to keeping Medicare coverage up to date that builds on new information technology.

Another important date is Nov. 15. That's when people can start enrolling in the drug coverage. If you already have coverage from a former employer, you should also be hearing very soon from your former employer about how your coverage will work with the new Medicare coverage.

All of this is right around the corner, and we're going to provide lots of help for people to take advantage of the new benefits.

MEMBER QUESTION:
Is there any truth to the rumor that changes to Medicare might be delayed because of the crisis with Hurricane Katrina?

MCCLELLAN:
We will implement the drug benefit on schedule nationwide. In fact, it's particularly important for people from the Gulf Coast who have lost their income and in many cases are no longer in the state where they got drug coverage before. We are taking extra steps to help evacuees take advantage of this drug coverage on schedule.

MODERATOR:
What do those affected by Katrina need to do to get signed up for Part D?

MCCLELLAN:
They can call 1-800-MEDICARE anytime. We will make sure they can get the drug coverage on schedule, even if they do not call us, because they are having trouble with a phone connection or other connections, we will be making sure people still can get access to the coverage.

For example, people from Louisiana with limited income who have Medicaid drug coverage now will be automatically enrolled in the Medicare coverage at no cost so that they can get benefits at a local pharmacy wherever they are on Jan. 1. Medicare will pay about $3 for every $1 that a beneficiary spends on drug coverage. In other words, 75% of the cost.

We have recent good news about the cost of the drug coverage. Because of the strong competition among drug plans, the actual cost of this coverage will be about 15% less than people had predicted. In addition, in every state in the country, there will be low-cost drug benefit options available. Premiums will often be under $20 a month and in some cases, even less. Previously people had expected the premiums to be around $37 a month for this coverage.