Congressman Jeb Hensarling has announced he will hold a Medicare Prescription Drug Meeting Thursday at the Athens City Hall Annex from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. His staff and guest experts from the Area Agency on Aging will be on hand to take questions, explaining the details of the new program and how to enroll.

“No American should have to choose between buying food and buying medicine,” Hensarling said. “Medicare’s new prescription drug program is already helping seniors meet the rising costs of their medications.”

Hensarling said more than 30 million people have enrolled in the program. He said competition is helping driving down costs and premiums are now averaging just $25 per month, down from prior estimates of $37 per month.

“It is vitally important that we inform the rest of America’s seniors about the benefits of this new program so they can start saving right away,” he said.

All seniors that qualify for Medicare are eligible for the program regardless of income level, resources, pre-existing conditions, or current prescription expenses. Prescription drug coverage is optional, and totally voluntary. Medicare pays for both brand name and generic drugs. Seniors should enroll before May 15 in order to avoid possible penalties for later enrollment.

According to the U.S. government’s Medicare website:

Medicare prescription drug coverage is insurance that covers both brand-name and generic prescription drugs at participating pharmacies in your area. Medicare prescription drug coverage provides protection for people who have very high drug costs. Everyone with Medicare is eligible for this coverage, regardless of income and resources, health status, or current prescription expenses.

Your decision about Medicare prescription drug coverage depends on the kind of health care coverage you have now. There are two ways to get Medicare prescription drug coverage. You can join a Medicare prescription drug plan or you can join a Medicare Advantage Plan or other Medicare Health Plans that offer drug coverage.

How does Medicare prescription drug coverage work?

Your decision about Medicare prescription drug coverage depends on the kind of health care coverage you have now. There are two ways to get Medicare prescription drug coverage. You can join a Medicare prescription drug plan or you can join a Medicare Advantage Plan or other Medicare Health Plans that offer drug coverage.

Whatever plan you choose, Medicare drug coverage will help you by covering brand-name and generic drugs at pharmacies that are convenient for you.

Like other insurance, if you join, you will pay a monthly premium, which varies by plan, and a yearly deductible (no more than $250 in 2006). You will also pay a part of the cost of your prescriptions, including a copayment or coinsurance. Costs will vary depending on which drug plan you choose. Some plans may offer more coverage and additional drugs for a higher monthly premium. If you have limited income and resources, and you qualify for extra help, you may not have to pay a premium or deductible.

Medicare prescription drug coverage provides greater peace of mind by protecting you from unexpected drug expenses. Even if you don’t use a lot of prescription drugs now, you should still consider joining. As we age, most people need prescription drugs to stay healthy. For most people, joining now means protecting yourself from unexpected prescription drug bills in the future.

There is extra help for people with limited income and resources. Almost 1 in 3 people with Medicare will qualify for extra help and Medicare will pay for almost all of their prescription drug costs. You can apply or get more information about the extra help by calling Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) or visiting www.socialsecurity.gov.

For more information, call 1-800-MEDICARE or visit www.medicare.gov.

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e-mail jlarson@athensreview.com

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