November 23, 2005 | By: Terri McLean
LEXINGTON, Ky.

The University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service is coordinating a statewide effort to help Kentucky’s senior citizens clear up the confusion surrounding Medicare’s new prescription drug coverage plan.

The effort primarily centers on helping county Extensionagents answer questions about the plan, known as Part D, and to help eligible Medicare participants locate local resources, including offices of the Kentucky State Health Insurance Assistance Program, which provides information, counseling and assistance to seniors and other Medicare participants.   

“The number of eligible participants in Medicare Part D is staggering,” said Deborah Murray, associate director of Extension’s Health Education through Extension Leadership program, which is leading the effort. “When we accessed the numbers of eligible Kentuckians and saw the enormity of the task at hand, we realized that any organization, including the University of Kentuckywith its Extension offices all across the state, had a responsibility to help get the information out there.”

The Medicare Part D Prescription Benefit Plan, which opened enrollment Nov. 15, is the federal government’s effort to help senior citizens better afford their prescription drugs. Although coverage begins Jan. 1, 2006, enrollment is open until May 15.

Why all the confusion? The prescription drug program is being marketed by private insurance companies that offer a bewildering array of options, deductibles, premiums and exceptions. What’s more, the plans vary widely in costs – sometimes by thousands of dollars.

“There are nearly 50 different insurance companies marketing their plans in Kentucky alone,” Murray said. “Just the sheer number of options, premiums, benefits makes it challenging.”

To complicate matters, many Kentucky seniors mistakenly think that if they signed up for Medicare’s prescription discount cards last year they are automatically enrolled in the new Part D plan, Murraysaid. A penalty is assessed to those who sign up after the May 15 deadline.

“It concerns Extension agents that eligible seniors and others covered by Medicare won’t sign up and then will be saddled with the penalty charges when they do sign up,” Murray said. “This is an economic issue for our residents and communities as well as a health issue.”

Extension agents in every Kentucky county receive weekly updates about Medicare Part D, including scam alerts, that they can pass on to their clientele. Providing those updates are Robert Flashman, Extension specialist for family resource management, Lisa Hart, Extension health specialist who is also affiliated with the UK College of Pharmacy, David Godfrey, of Access to Justice Foundation, and Bobby Cooley, Kentucky Department for Insurance.

To help Extension agents understand how senior citizens make decisions, the UK Brown Sanders Center on Aging and the Council on Aging has provided technical assistance.

In addition, HEEL worked with the Center for Rural Development in Somerset and WYMT-TV in Hazard to broadcast a 90-minute interactive session about Medicare Part D to several locations, including Extension offices and the Kentucky Telehealth system. The session was also broadcast on WYMT-TV for its 27-county viewing audience.

“It is everyone’s responsibility to try to assist those who need prescription drug coverage to get the support they need,” Murray said. “We were not mandated to do this program, and we didn’t receive any funding to do it. We felt we had the capacity here at HEEL and with our partner colleges as well as our partners in the state to make it happen, and that is what we did.”

Contact: 

Writer: Terri McLean 859-257-4736, ext. 276

Contact: Deborah Murray, 859-257-2968 ext. 80914