May 15, 2006
Today is the last day for seniors to sign up for the new Medicare Prescription Benefit, and some say that the new rules and regulations are confusing. That confusion has some asking for an extension. Five million eligible seniors have not signed up for Medicare's prescription drug plan. Seniors who don't sign up face penalties.
The phone calls are coming in by the hand full, just minutes before Medicare's midnight deadline. The Jefferson Area Board of Aging helped 20 people sign up today alone.
"People suddenly realized over the weekend or today that they still had to make a choice," said Sally Mank, an Insurance Specialist.
Timberlake's Pharmacy had been fielding last minute questions. "The biggest thing they want to know is - which plan should I sign up with?" said John Plantz, the Timberlake Pharmacist.
Mildred Carter has been working at Timberlake's for fifty years and she said she's never seen it like this. It's a mad rush to meet the deadline.
"They don't realize maybe that this is the last cut off date," said Carter.
Seniors can sign up later, but at the expense of a higher premium for life. Carter said it's something that most seniors can't afford.
"It may not be a great deal of money but to someone on a fixed income it's an extra amount of money for what they're going to receive and that's not the American way," said Carter.
Some lobbyists agree; they're fighting to get rid of that penalty, but others believe the only way to get everyone on board is to give seniors more time.
"I see nothing wrong with another thirty day grace period," Plantz said.
"Given the five million that are still out there, it might be a good idea," said Mank.
So far, the Bush administration said they will not extend deadline. They said they need a time limit to encourage as many people as possible to enroll. If you missed the deadline, the next time to enroll will be November 16 until the end of the year. The penalty would apply--the insurance company will tack on an additional 1% of the average monthly premium for life.
Seniors have until midnight to call 1-800-MEDICARE to enroll. There are 6,000 operators standing by to help sign people up.