Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Medicare Part D - the problem

No, I’m not on Medicare (yet), but my mother is and she’s asked me for help in deciding whether or she should enroll in the new Medicare Part D (Prescription Drug Coverage) plan. This is an interesting challenge for me because I don’t know beans about this stuff.

I’ve started doing some research on the subject and it is, unfortunately, as complicated as it first seems. Fortunately, there are a lot of resources one can turn to for answers. There is the US Government Medicare website from which you can review/download their handy-dandy, 104 page booklet entitled “Medicare & You 2006.” I’m about a third of the way through it. Another resource is Jane Bryant Quinn's column in the January 10th, 2006 issue of Newsweek, “A Map for the Medicare Maze.” In it, she gave some basic pointers about what to join and what not to join, based on various conditions. And, to learn about Medicare Part C, I’ve got a Terry Savage column from the Chicago Sun-Times published earlier this year. This should get me started anyway…

My mother is lucky in that she is very healthy (actually, luck is only part of it - she also takes very good care of herself). She has only one prescription medication she takes and that is for her eyes; she needs nothing for high blood pressure, diabetes or other common chronic conditions. Part D, however, assumes that you do have prescription drugs to be covered. This would be fine if you could enroll or not enroll as you choose, but there is this interesting little caveat that if you don’t enroll by May 15th of this year, you then have to pay a penalty in perpetuity for not enrolling at the earliest possible date. This seems unfair to me, but makes sense, I guess, if you’re trying to force people to join (something that Quinn’s column says they are trying to do). The logic would be that if only the really sick people sign up, the premiums will be higher. This also means that the healthier people are partly subsidizing the sicker ones. This seems unfair – if you’ve taken care of yourself, like my mother has, you get to pay an additional premium to help cover the fat slobs who are trying to eat or drink themselves to death. I know, I know, life isn’t fair, and, many of the people who are sick are just unlucky, not un-careful. It’s the way of insurance, I guess.

So, over the next couple of days, I’ll be posting my “findings” – maybe they’ll help someone else navigate the Medicare maze…

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