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V.I. Seniors Still Puzzled By Medicare Drug Plan

Sept. 20, 2006 – A group of about 100 senior citizens learned more about the Medicare Part D prescription drug plan during an information session this week at Palms Court Harborview Hotel. The plan took effect Jan. 1 in the territory, but questions remain with many seniors who do not know how to go about receiving plan benefits.
Once enrolled, a Medicare recipient in the territory can get coverage from two private companies MemberHealth, which is offering its Community Care Rx Plan, and United Health Care Insurance, which offers the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) Medicare Rx Plan.
MemberHealth was on site Monday morning when the seniors gathered at an open house at Palms Court to hear more about the health plans.
Celia Victor — a Department of Health senior citizen clinical compliance officer, who is an expert in the ins and outs of the plan — gave some ideas about why more seniors are not yet signed up. "It's brand new information," she said, "and it's the same nationally. Seniors haven't been signing up because they don't know what to ask."
There were plenty of representatives on hand Monday to answer all questions. And the questions are many. There have been countless news stories since the plan was introduced citing its complexity and the problem of getting seniors to come forward.
"Our goal here," Victor said, "is to assist the V.I. State Health Insurance Assistance Program (VISHIP) and the Human Services State Pharmaceutical Assistance Program (SPAP) in getting people to enroll. We invited caregivers and providers, as well." Seniors from the Calabash Boom and the Myra Keating Clinic centers on St. John also attended. The participants sat at large round tables, where they were visited by the different representatives.
D. Alan Scantland, MemberHealth senior vice president from the company's Ohio office, said he estimates there's about 15,000 senior citizens in the territory, of which he thinks about 3,000 are signed up with MemberHealth's plan.
The SPAP program is designed to help people with the cost of prescription drug. "If you are 60 years or older," Victor said. "It subsidizes the cost of prescription drugs. If you have an income up to $18,000 for a single person, or $30,000 for a couple, and you have no major medical insurance, you may be eligible for the program."
Victor said, "Out-of-pocket costs are $6 on the first medication, and $1 on each additional medication."
To inquire further about the program, call 774-5265, ext. 2 on St. Thomas; or 773-2323, ext. 2023 on St. Croix.
As we were talking, senior citizen Joseph Simmonds approached with questions. "I'm covered with the government Cigna insurance," he said, "but I'm inquiring about my wife." Since Simmonds' wife already has Social Security parts A and B, Victor referred Simmonds to the VISHIP representative.
Shirley Quetel-Hendricks, VISHIP assistant director, said people coming to her office need to bring their current prescriptions (including milligram count), and the agency will enter the information into the computer to see which program best suits their needs. She said, "We can then enroll you online."
Victor said the place for seniors to start is the Social Security office to determine if they are carrying Medicare coverage, and which parts. "The Social Security office is the starting point. If you have Medicare parts A and B, VISHIP will assist you."
Victor and the other insurance representatives stressed the importance of enrolling in a prescription program now. "A large percentage of the territory's senior population is not covered at all, including the disabled. Another session of the open house was held Monday afternoon for the disabled community.
"Our goal," Victor said, "is to get as much of the senior community as possible enrolled in whatever plan is best for them this year." She lamented the fact that so many persons are still wondering about the programs and not coming forward. "It's the same problem in the states," she said. "We need education."
Enrollment runs Nov. 15 through Jan. 1, Victor said. She noted that after Jan. 1, there is a penalty for enrolling..
The VISHIP offices are located on the first floors of Schneider Regional Medical Center on St. Thomas, and Juan F. Luis Hospital on St. Croix.
AARP will hold immunization and screening programs on St. Thomas and St. Croix in October where the AARP prescription plan will be available to enrollment. Denise Singleton, AARP state chairman, gave the following times and locations:
St. Croix
Oct. 16 and 17 — C. D. Canegata Center and the Aldersville Senior Center
St. John
Oct. 19 and 20 – Myra Keating Clinic
St. Thomas
Oct. 19 and 20 – Reform Lutheran Church in Tutu and the Frenchtown Senior Center.
All programs run from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Singleton can be reached at 713-2002.
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