Guest Viewpoint for Wednesday — December 21, 2005

• Private insurance for Medicare’s new drug benefit is a bad idea


Private insurance for Medicare’s new drug benefit is a bad idea

By Thomas Day

The choose biggest problem with enrolling in the new Medicare prescription drug program is the bewildering number of competing private insurance plans to from.

Nationwide there are 71 insurance organizations offering 131 different standalone prescription drug plans. It’s not fair to confront elderly Americans with so many choices and ask them to pick a company they may know nothing about. And what if they pick a company that may lack enough subscribers to even stay with the prescription drug business a year from now? Seniors are justifiably confused. It would have made more sense to let Medicare offer a simple 20-percent co-pay drug plan for everyone which would make all these confusing private plans unnecessary.

Medicare has an excellent enrollment web site and there are over 12,000 volunteers nationwide who will help seniors sign up for a plan, but this service identifies the plans with the least expensive out-of-pocket cost. That might make it easy to pick a plan but it’s the wrong approach. Why is that? It’s common practice for some companies in the health insurance industry to offer low cost and great benefits to attract enrollees only to raise premiums or reduce benefits in the future. I have a background in insurance; I have experienced it first-hand. Again, we wouldn’t have to worry about these company honesty issues if Medicare provided the benefits.

I am also concerned that Medicare insurance is being sold by insurance agents who may misrepresent the product in order to get a sale. Once again the public would not have to worry about these trust issues if Medicare offered the coverage.

At this point we can do nothing to correct this misguided attempt by Congress to privatize Medicare benefits. But seniors can be more careful with the selection process. I recommend using the Internet as it is the best source of information. Since few elderly have access to the Internet, family members or friends, who are more likely to have Internet access at home or at work, should step in to help frustrated loved ones find the right plan. But the process should focus more on finding out about the companies offering the plans and rely less on a simple cost analysis or a sales pitch to pick coverage.

The National Care Planning Council, a nationwide alliance of eldercare experts and providers, has designed a free, noncommercial, public service web site to help seniors. There are step-by-step instructions on how to pick a plan and there are lists of all plans in a given area but most importantly there are links to the 71 companies offering drug coverage. Enrollees can go directly to the web sites of the companies in their area and check them out and print off complete drug lists. The government enrollment support system does not offer these options. The National Care Planning Council’s web site can be accessed by going to www.longtermcarelink.net/medicare.

  • Thomas Day is Director of the National Care Planning Council. His e-mail address is tomday@longtermcarelink.net. The National Care Planning Council web site is www.longtermcarelink.net/guide.
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