Video: Medicare drug deadline nears

By Chip Reid Correspondent
NBC News
updated 4/18/2006 7:30:11 PM ET 2006-04-18T23:30:11

For people thinking about signing up for the Medicare prescription drug program, May 15 is the deadline for doing so without incurring a penalty. For seniors who have signed up, there’s some good news—they’re saving money. In many cases they’re saving a lot of money. But some are getting left behind.

In the small community of Nelsonville, Ohio, strangers arrive from out of town. They roll out cases of equipment, install it in the public library and, in minutes, one team from the National Council on the Aging walks local seniors through the complicated maze of the Medicare prescription drug program.

Soon, the fog begins to lift and seniors begin to choose among the dozens of different plans after having heard from friends and neighbors how much money they can save.

“I was happy,” says Medicare beneficiary Gerry Kuhn, “I mean when I went to get our medicine that first day it only cost us $24 instead of $150.”

A recent AARP study says two-thirds of those who have signed up for the drug program are already saving money.  A quarter say they’re saving a great deal of money

“If people don’t go and do it,” Kuhn says laughing, “they’re fools that’s all I can say.”

“For some of these folks, This is the difference between having food on the table or not!” says Kathleen Gmeiner of the Access to Benefits Coalition.

But, here in Nelsonville, not all the news is good. If you want to hear what’s still wrong with the Medicare prescription drug program, just take a stroll down to the local pharmacy. Steven Holtel says his customers are confused even after choosing a plan.

“They’re still overwhelmed by why is this drug not covered but this one is and why do I have to pay a co-pay that’s higher on this other one,” Holtel says, “It’s all very confusing.”

Other critics say more than ten million seniors have still not signed up—mostly the poor.

“So in terms of the people who need it the most,” says Ron Pollack, a health care consumer advocate with Families USA, “this program is, unfortunately, failing.”

Making sure it doesn’t fail is what keeps the National Council on the Aging’s Medicare swat team on the road—heading for the next town.

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