Local Medicare access network formed

Program aims to reduce anxiety about new drug benefit

By Kim Howard
Observer staff

Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie recently announced the creation of a statewide network that will help educate Vermonters about the new federal Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit.

The Medicare Rx Access Network of Vermont hopes to reach the state’s 96,000-plus Medicare beneficiaries. Enrollment for the new prescription drug benefit began on Tuesday.

“There are a lot of Vermonters that have some anxiety about how to enroll,” Dubie said at the announcement at Racquet’s Edge Health and Community Fitness Center in Essex Junction. “Not a single Medicare beneficiary has to do this alone. We will do this with you.”

Medicare covers doctor visits and hospitalizations. Until now, it has not covered prescription drugs. Medicare beneficiaries who enroll prior to Dec. 31 are eligible for prescription drug coverage starting Jan. 1 of next year.

The new Medicare Rx Access Network is comprised of 16 organizations which represent seniors, patients, people with disabilities and chronic diseases, pharmacists, health care providers and businesses.

Network officials said that Medicare beneficiaries with limited incomes – approximately 30,000 Vermonters – will get extra help from the new coverage but have to pay little or nothing in return.

Joan Senecal, deputy commissioner of the Vermont Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living, said that Medicare Part D will be a help to Vermonters who do not currently have prescription drug coverage. Though some states are dropping their state prescription drug coverage, Vermont is not. Starting Jan. 1, Vermonters who have Medicare coverage and are enrolled in a State pharmacy program will be covered by a new program called VPharm, said Senecal.

“It’s certainly wonderful that the state has kept its strong pharmacy programs in existence,” said John Barbour, executive director of the Champlain Valley Agency on Aging. “For a lot of those people, there will be virtually no change in the benefits they receive,” he continued.

Senecal said the state will automatically enroll people with Medicare and State pharmacy coverage in one of 11 Medicare Part D plans. Those with State pharmacy coverage should have received letters about their assignment last week.

Beneficiaries should check their assigned plan to ensure the drugs they take are included on that plan’s drug list. If the plan is not the best match, beneficiaries may change plans any time before midnight on Dec. 31. One additional change is allowed before May 15.

State officials hope it won’t be complicated. Senecal said that more than 250 educational sessions are being conducted around the state in senior centers and libraries.

And for those who continue to have questions, help may be a phone call away – if you can get through. Early reports indicate a high call volume. With a list of their prescription drugs; dosages; and current drug coverage information, Medicare beneficiaries can get assistance by calling the State Health Insurance and Assistance Program at 1-800-642-5119.