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Missing Medicare deadline can be costly

Hawai‘i’s seniors with Medicare have until May 15 to enroll in the program’s new prescription drug plan known as Part D, states a press release from Rep. Brian Schataz’s office.

Missing this deadline could mean significant and permanent penalties. Nationally, this program offers privatized drug coverage to 43 million Medicare seniors.

In Hawai‘i, Part D potentially affects 184,000 people and many have yet to enroll in the program and will be penalized if they don’t do so by May 15.

Since Part D was launched, there has been lots of confusion about its complexity. And this confusion is compounded by penalizing those who miss the May deadline.

Late enrollees who do not have “creditable coverage” (coverage that is comparable to Medicare’s) for at least 63 days will have to pay a penalty of 1 percent for each month past the deadline that they aren’t enrolled.

This penalty is permanently added to a senior’s annual premiums which will likely increase in future years.

With the deadline fast approaching, it’s crucial for individuals to review options and look into enrolling in a Part D plan soon to avoid the penalty, states the release.

Seniors should list their current medications, dosages and monthly costs and use this information to decide whether to enroll and to select a plan.

But given the program’s design, making that decision is not so simple because the program has different levels of coverage, including the “doughnut hole” which provides zero coverage for prescription costs between $2,850 and $5,100.

For seniors who currently have low or no drug costs, enrolling in Part D may cost more money then what they are paying out-of-pocket.

But if they were to get sick and their drug needs were to increase, enrolling now could potentially save them money since late enrollment means being penalized.

For seniors with high drug costs, enrolling in Part D might save money. But it’s key to select a plan that covers their medication needs.

Part D plans are different so it’s important to narrow the list by choosing one that is least restrictive and does not place an undue burden on the individual (quantity limits, out-of-network pharmacies, or pre-authorizations).

For tips and guidance about the May 15 deadline, seniors can find help by contacting Hawai‘i’s Executive Office on Aging at 1-888-875-9229.

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