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Waterloo Courier: ‘Group seeks changes in new Medicare prescription drug plan’

Group seeks changes in new Medicare prescription drug plan

 Waterloo Courier (IA)
6.21.06

By JENS MANUEL KROGSTAD
Courier Staff Writer
WATERLOO --- Val Martin did her homework before giving the Medicare senior prescription drug plan a failing grade.

Martin, 81, pored over the paperwork and realized she could save money by not signing up for Medicare Part D, though it is hard to be 100 percent certain because of confusing rules and choices. Add the permanent penalty for those who didn't sign up by May 15 and a funding gap commonly referred to as the "doughnut hole," and she said the whole thing stinks.

"It's crooked. I feel it's dishonest," she said.

That was the overriding message at a public forum on Medicare Part D held Tuesday at the Waterloo Public Library from organizers and attendees. Put on by Iowa Citizen Action Network, a grassroots environmental and consumer organization, the group plans to use people's stories of dealing with the Medicare plan to lobby legislators to make changes.

Proposed alterations include:

--- Provide drugs directly through Medicare to lower costs instead of going through insurance companies.

--- Allow Medicare to negotiate for the lowest price as the U.S. Department of Veteran's Affairs does. Under the current plan, insurance companies set the prices.

--- Use the savings created by these measures to close the coverage gap. Part D requires people to pay 100 percent of their drug costs between $2,240 and $5,100.

Bob Greenwood, owner of Greenwood Pharmacy, said the months leading up to the May 15 deadline to sign up for the plan consumed his every waking hour due as customers sought his help understanding the complex rules. Since then, he said his work load has decreased, but he has suffered financially. His gross margin has dropped 4 percent since the plan went into effect and he has put $100,000 of his own money into his business because of reimbursement delays.

"If I fill a prescription today ... I'll get that money in the middle of August," he said.

That's too long for his business. He's talking to Iowa legislators about forcing Medicare to reimburse pharmacies within 14 days of filling a prescription.

Greenwood would also like Congress to waive the permanent late fee imposed on those who didn't sign up by May 15. He also criticized the practice of forcing people to fill prescriptions at a certain pharmacy. For example, he said, plans offered by Humana require people to fill prescriptions exclusively at Wal-Mart.

Greenwood said difficulties with Medicare Part D --- particularly the so-called "doughnut hole" --- may come back to haunt legislators who passed the prescription drug plan.

"I have many patients in the doughnut hole, and I think around this fall election time there are going to be more," he said.

Contact Jens Manuel Krogstad at (319) 291-1580 or jens.krogstad@wcfcourier.com.

SOURCE: http://www.wcfcourier.com/articles/2006/06/21/news/metro/f86e474c7b91761e86257194004806ea.txt