Medicare's Deadline Day
If you're on Medicare, you should be stressing about May 15 just as much as you do about tax day, maybe more. That's the deadline for signing up for the new Part D prescription drug coverage. Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran says if you procrastinate and fail to sign up by May 15--and you don't have creditable drug coverage elsewhere--you could be assessed a penalty, 1 percent more PER MONTH.
As Curran explains it: People on Medicare who already have a separate prescription plan (through a retirement insurance plan, union or HMO) with coverage as good or better than what they could get under the Medicare Part D plan are considered to have "creditable coverage." They do not need to sign up for Medicare Part D by May 15. However, those without creditable coverage need to sign up by then or pay the higher premium each month they delay.
Because the next enrollment period doesn't begin until Nov. 15, 2006, anyone who misses the May 15 deadline will have to pay at least 6 percent more for whichever policy they eventually choose. "That is a lifetime penalty, not a one-time penalty," Curran said in a news release. "Even if you are unhappy with the Part D plan, even if you are working to get it changed, don't wait to sign up if you are eligible because the penalty is real and it is fast approaching." And Curran said that although there was some talk that Congress may extend the deadline, it doesn't appear likely at the moment. "So don't delay," he advised.
Given the complexities of Part D, it's easy to understand why people may be procrastinating. At the same time, the New York Times yesterday reported that a last-minute rush to sign up is tying up phone lines, making consumers wait as long as 30 minutes to talk with a customer service represenetative instead of 30 seconds, which is required for 80 percent of the calls under federal standards.
If you're confused, overwhelmed, even intimidated about Part D, there are a number of helpful Web sites, including Medicare's. There's also a call center, 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227) to get help.
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