New Medicare Drug Benefit Open for Enrollment Today

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Seniors can begin enrolling in the new Medicare prescription drug plan starting today, but many are finding the wealth of options confusing.

Selecting the best plan may be difficult, but President Bush touted it in his weekly radio address as “the greatest advance in health care for seniors and Americans with disabilities since the creation of Medicare 40 years ago.”

Some of the country's 40 million Medicare beneficiaries have felt stymied by the system in the past. For example, Bush said, “Medicare would pay more than $100,000 to treat the effects of a stroke, but not $1,000 per year for blood-thinning drugs that could have prevented the stroke in the first place.”

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Preventing serious illness, rather than treating it when it happens, is the thinking behind the new plan, which features private companies providing the government-sponsored benefit.

Now is the time to consider choices for the new coverage, which starts Jan. 1. USA Today tested the Medicare website at, and found it somewhat daunting, even for savvy Internet users. To compare plans, enter a ZIP code and plans available in that area will appear, but in the case of Vienna, Va., for example, 54 choices popped up. Seniors can also list the prescription drugs they take to find plans that cover those particular drugs; again, dozens appeared. Some plans offer low to no premiums, while others offer higher premiums with lower co-payments. However, the website offers a wealth of information, although weeding through it may take some time.

"We think it's a good thing there are a lot of options for seniors and others in Medicare, but certainly, they may be overwhelmed by the number of choices out there," said Cheryl Randolph, a spokeswoman for PacifiCare, told the San Francisco Chronicle.

While sign-ups can start today, Medicare beneficiaries have until May 15 to enroll without paying late sign-up rates. If you choose now, but change your mind, you can switch anytime before Jan. 1.

The change offers another benefit – some health-insurance companies are beefing up their insurance policies to attract Medicare recipients to their Medicare Advantage plans. The companies include Humana Inc., PacifiCare Health Systems, UnitedHealth Group Inc. and Aetna Inc., the Wall Street Journal reported. Extra benefits include vision, gym memberships, lower premiums or even no premiums.

For more information, call 800.633.4327. The National Council on the Aging also offers comparisons of drug plans at

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