Medicare bill creates confusion

Seniors don't understand drug benefit

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After viewing a video on the federal government's new Medicare program, Jim Meineke had one clear comment to make.

"Write in your article that Craig residents are confused," he said.

The American Association of Retired Persons taped the video that Meineke and the other members of the local AARP chapter viewed, and it was designed to explain the new Medicare system to senior citizens. It didn't help, but Meineke didn't place the blame on AARP.

"The American people need to put pressure on Congress to get better information," he said.

Most of what he's heard about the complex new prescription drug coverage system has come in the form of generalities. He said he doesn't know what the breakdown of income levels is, which in turn means he doesn't know what kind of drug coverage he gets.

The new drug benefit won't begin until 2006, but Medicare drug discount cards will be available in the interim. The discount card is expected to offer an average of 13 percent off prescription drugs.

Medicare recipients will pay a $35 monthly premium payment and a $250 annual deductible, according to information from AARP.

Before Medicare recipients have spent $2,200 in annual drug costs, 75 percent of costs will be covered. There is no coverage between $2,200 and $5,100, but 95 percent of expenses are covered after $5,100 has been spent.

That explanation is why Meineke said he's glad he's a retired military veteran and receives prescription drug coverage as part of his retirement package.

But still he figures he'll pay the $35 monthly premium to get his wife coverage.

The plan looks as though it would benefit the very poor, but won't help the middle class, Meineke said.

The middle class could fall into what AARP calls the "doughnut hole," an area where senior citizens receive too much income or possess too many assets to be eligible for Medicare coverage.

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