For millions of seniors it’s almost like being back in school — a national campaign to educate seniors about the new prescription drug discount cards.
“You have almost a month to pick the card you want,” said Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga.
In Smyrna, Ga., on Monday, after more than an hour of instruction, some of Gingrey’s pupils were starting to catch on. But others were not.
“I think it was so confusing that I couldn’t think of the questions to ask!” said senior citizen Herbert Brinker.
Janice Harbin added, “If you take a whole lot of medications a month to keep functioning, you can’t change from card A to B to C off and on during the month and during the year, you have to stay with the same card.”
Here are the basics:
- The program is voluntary — no one is required to buy any discount card.
- The federal government estimates savings of 10 to 25 percent for their prescriptions, starting June 1.
- The card costs no more than $30.
- Low-income seniors get an additional $600 benefit.
The confusion stems from the fact that there are dozens of different cards backed by Medicare but sold by private companies, including pharmaceutical and insurance companies — and it’s up to seniors to decide which card is best.
Even AARP, a key supporter of the program cards, pokes fun at how confusing it is in a TV commercial: “Call AARP for a free brochure that explains it in simple English.”
At a workshop in Washington, D.C., Monday, federal officials urged seniors to do their homework — compare prices online or, if you’re not computer savvy, call the Medicare information center for help at 1-800-MEDICARE.
U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson advises: “Window shop. Find the best price, then get your card.”
But critics — mostly Democrats — say the savings are illusory. “Drug companies are already raising their prices so that they can offer discounts without losing a dime in profits,” said House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
The discount card program expires at the end of next year. That’s when the permanent Medicare prescription drug benefit takes over — a program that’s even more controversial and even more complicated.