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With Deadline Looming, Schumer Reveals 27% Of Eligible Upstate NY’ers Still Haven’t Signed-Up For Medicare Part D – Nearly Half Don’t Know About Deadline, Could Face Lifelong Penalties

Though 1.3 Million Upstate New Yorkers Eligible, More than 350,000 Have Not Enrolled; And More than 162,000 Don’t Even Know About Deadline – Only Twelve Days Left To Enroll Unless Deadline Is Extended

Senator To Push Legislation Extending Deadline, Avoiding Lifelong Penalties This Year

Schumer To Release Number of Medicare Recipients In Each County Enrolled In Medicare Drug Plan: In Capital Region

Although 1.3 million seniors are eligible for the new Medicare prescription drug plan in upstate New York, because the plan is complex and confusing only 434,432 have actually enrolled, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer revealed today. With the enrollment deadline set for May 15, 2006, Schumer today called on Congress to immediately pass legislation to give seniors an additional six months to enroll in a plan without incurring any late penalties.

“This plan was poorly thought-out from the beginning,” Schumer said. “Now the deadline is twelve days away and hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers don’t even know there’s a deadline. Charging these late penalties is absurd, permitting a lapse in coverage is unconscionable. It’s time to plug some of the holes here by extending the deadline. We owe it to seniors who have had enough trouble trying to navigate these incomprehensible plans.”

Schumer today released regional data detailing how many seniors in each county have enrolled in the Medicare benefit and how many are still left without Medicare or comparable prescription drug coverage:

• 40,201 Capital Region seniors are currently enrolled in Medicare Part D and 41,430 are still left without coverage;
• 44,444 Central New York seniors are currently enrolled in Medicare Part D and 42,494 are still left without coverage;
• 72,116 Rochester/Finger Lakes seniors are currently enrolled in Medicare Part D and 43,795 are still left without coverage;
• 28,727 North Country seniors are currently enrolled in Medicare Part D and 23,387 are still left without coverage;
• 114,616 Hudson Valley seniors are currently enrolled in Medicare Part D and 97,151 are still left without coverage;
• 35,670 Southern Tier seniors are currently enrolled in Medicare Part D and 30,647 are still left without coverage;
• 98,658 Western New York seniors are currently enrolled in Medicare Part D and 75,287 are still left without coverage;

A recent report the by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health policy research organization, found that only 55% of seniors realize the deadline is May 15. Only 53% know enrolling after the deadline will result in a lifetime penalty. Schumer’s study shows that 162,928 upstate New Yorkers fall into that category and are thus unaware of the May 15 deadline and subsequent penalties.

Under current law, seniors who do not decide on a plan by May 15th will be penalized heavily if they ever choose a Medicare drug plan in the future. These seniors will be charged higher monthly premiums, which get more expensive the longer they wait. Premiums will go up by 1% for every month that seniors wait, so if a senior enrolls in May of 2007, Medicare will tack an extra 12% onto his monthly premium for the rest of his life. Seniors who don't enroll by May 15 will have to wait until November to sign up, and should receive drug coverage beginning January 1, 2007 if they enroll during the 2006 calendar year. A senior who enrolls in November of 2006 is projected to pay an extra $4,800 in premium penalties over the course of twenty years of enrollment in the Medicare drug plan.

Seniors aware of the impending drug plan deadline have sought help from community organizations and drug plans as they attempt to sort through which plan is best for them. However, the information available to seniors is inadequate and not easily accessible. The best way to compare drug plans is to use an internet tool offered by Medicare, but very few seniors have access to a computer, and many have never used a computer before. Community organizations have been forced to impose long waiting lists for seniors seeking help because of the sheer volume of requests for assistance.

Additionally, although the call wait times at private drug plans have improved since the implementation of the plan, holding time has dramatically increased as the penalty approaches. It is likely that many seniors who want to enroll in the program before the deadline may not even be able to because they can't get the information they need to choose a plan.

Schumer today announced a renewed push for the Medicare Informed Choice Act (S. 1841), co-sponsored by Senators Schumer, Bill Nelson (FL) and Dick Durbin (IL), which provides additional protections for Medicare beneficiaries, including delaying the enrollment deadlines and eliminating the late penalties for people who enroll as late as December 31. Adding time and flexibility to the Medicare prescription drug benefit, the bill would also give every beneficiary a chance to change plans once during the first year. Allowing for a change of plans once over the first year provides a safety net in case a senior has to go onto a new drug partway through the year that is not covered by the first plan they enroll in .Especially as the deadline nears, Senator Schumer believes we can make sure seniors are not forced to make hasty decisions they may later regret.

Schumer also joined a bipartisan coalition of Senators, including Republican Senators Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Arlen Specter (R-PA), in sending a letter to Majority Leader Bill Frist asking him to bring legislation to the Senate floor that would extend the existing six-month open enrollment period to the entire year of 2006.

This is not the only flaw in the Medicare prescription drug program, which is also prevented from negotiating prescription drug prices using bulk orders like the Veteran’s Administration does to save billions of dollars. Many seniors who are enrolled in the Medicare drug program are already encountering the "doughnut hole," a period of time during which they are responsible for 100% of the costs of their drugs and have no help from their insurance plans.

Senator Schumer is a member of the Senate Finance Committee that oversees Social Security and Medicare, and is the co- author with Senator John McCain (R-AZ) of the Greater Access to Affordable Pharmaceuticals Act , which became law in 2003. The Act enabled generic drugs to be brought to market sooner, and lowered the cost of prescriptions for millions of American seniors.

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