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Center helps seniors enroll



Published: Wed, October 18, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



About 24 people turned out to hear about the prescription drug program.

By HAROLD GWIN

VINDICATOR EDUCATION WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Eleanor Howell of Rutledge Drive has been a Medicare recipient for 10 years, but she didn't enroll in the federal health-care program's Plan D prescription-drug program when enrollment opened last year.

"I didn't understand it," said Howell, adding that, until she recently reached age 65, she was getting the medications she needed through a program run by St. Elizabeth Health Center.

She had to leave that program at 65, she said, and she showed up at the Senior Center of Mahoning County on Fifth Avenue on Tuesday to find out how to enroll in the Medicare Part D program.

The session was hosted by the Ohio Department of Insurance's Ohio Senior Health Insurance and Information Program (OSHIIP), and U.S. Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohi,o was on hand to encourage people to investigate and enroll in Part D.

"It's not perfect, but it's good," Voinovich said of Medicare's first drug prescription plan that was launched Jan. 1.

The federal government will keep reviewing the program and will take steps to upgrade it as needed, he told about two dozen people who attended the session.

Participants are saving, on average, about 1,100 a year on their prescription drug costs, Voinovich said.

Low-income people can get help in paying the premiums for their Part D plan, he said, noting that, in some cases, the benefit will be free for them.

Important issue

Health care, particularly drug prescriptions, is the most important issue for many senior citizens, Voinovich said, noting that he takes five prescription drugs regularly.

People need help determining what plan is best for them, and this is a chance to get that assistance, he said.

Lynn Heskett, OSHIIP public information officer, used the occasion to give attendees an overall review of Medicare, which changes nearly every year.

Part of that update was an examination of the prescription-drug plan which will be accepting new enrollments between Nov. 15 and Dec. 31.

Those already in the program can also opt to switch to a different prescription drug plan during that time period.

Heskett said that 79 percent of Ohioans eligible for Part D have already enrolled, and those who haven't should take a look at the program benefits, she said.

The program is open to anyone already receiving Medicare Part A or Part B benefits.

Three C's

People should look at the "three C's" of choosing a drug plan -- convenience, cost and coverage, she said.

They need to find out if their favorite pharmacy is a participant in a particular plan, whether they can order drugs by mail, what particular plans cost and what coverage those plans provide, she said.

OSHIIP and Senior Center representatives offered to meet individually with attendees after the presentation to help them determine their needs and which type of plan best suits those needs.

"It truly helped me," said Howell, who had filled pages of a notebook with information presented during the session. As it ended, she said she was on her way to meet with Senior Center staff to find out which plan is best for her.

Anyone with any Medicare questions can call OSHIIP toll-free at (800) 686-1578, Heskett said.




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