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Don't panic over potential loss of SeniorCare

Your need-to-know list if switching to Part D

Mike Heine/The Week

(Published April 17, 2007, 4:19 p.m.)

The federal government's plan to cease funding Wisconsin's SeniorCare prescription drug plan could affect 1,800 Walworth County residents, according to Community Action Inc.

Federal funding for SeniorCare will end in June and it is unclear if the state will be able to maintain the program until the end of the year. SeniorCare is Wisconsin's prescription drug assistance program for residents older than 65 who meet certain eligibility requirements. It is run through the state Department of Health and Family Services.

Walworth County seniors who used SeniorCare are encouraged to prepare for a possible change in their prescription drug plans.

Here are a few things to know, according to Community Action, a non-profit group that coordinates senior benefits programs in Walworth County:

-- Don't panic. Renew your SeniorCare if it comes in the mail and wait to do anything until you receive official notice of any changes. Do not cancel your SeniorCare benefits.

-- If SeniorCare is extended through the end of the year, those who want to enroll in a Medicare Part D plan will have an opportunity to do so. The annual enrollment period is Nov. 15 to Dec. 31. SeniorCare participants may have until Jan. 31, 2008 to enroll in Medicare Part D with no penalty because SeniorCare appears to be ending.

-- To qualify for the special enrollment period individuals must be current SeniorCare participants. That means if you receive a renewal notice, you must renew your SeniorCare benefits before SeniorCare ends to be protected from the Part D late penalties.

-- In many cases, Medicare Part D may not be as good as SeniorCare, but the plans to provide some help in paying for needed medications. Average monthly Part D premiums in Wisconsin were $35. The lowest premium in 2007 is $14.80.

-- A Low-Income Subsidy or "Extra Help" program is also available for Part D enrollees if individual income is less than $15,315 or $20,535 for couples, annually. Liquid assets must be less than $10,210 for singles and $20,410 for couples.

-- Before selecting a Medicare Part D plan, Walworth County enrollees should:

1. Check their eligibility for the Low-Income Subsidy.

2. Make sure current medications are on the plan's drug list (formulary). This can be confusing since there are more than 50 Medicare Part D plans available in Wisconsin.

3. Know that Medicare has a plan finder available on its Web site, www.medicare.gov. You can also call the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services at (800) 633-4227 to compare plans and enroll when necessary.

4. Know that they can call Julie Juranek, Community Action's senior benefit specialist in Walworth County at (262) 728-4745 or (800) 424-8297 for further assistance. Community Action is able to help with plan comparisons and determine eligibility for the Low-Income Subsidy. Have income information and a list of prescriptions available.

Other numbers to call for help include the SeniorCare Customer Service Hotline, (800) 657-2038 or the Coalition of Wisconsin Aging Groups drug help line, (866) 456-8211. Both numbers are toll free.


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