So Many Plans, So Little Time

On Nov. 15, seniors will begin signing up for the new Medicare drug benefit.

Maybe one day America's seniors will see the new Medicare drug benefit as a great thing. But, as CBS News correspondent Wyatt Andrews reports, initial reaction to this complicated benefit with its co-pays, co-insurance and catastrophic coverage is a mind numbing sense of confusion.

At a senior center near Baltimore, "great" wasn't the word leaping to mind.

"It's not fair," says one senior.

"It's so confusing," says another senior, echoing the sentiment of many.

What plan to pick is a huge issue because there is no one plan. When Congress passed the drug benefit, it set the standards, but the benefits will only come through private insurance companies. In Maryland, for example, there are 47 plans being offered.

As retiree Marion Clopein says, "Now I have to do a lot more reading, a lot more understanding, what plan to pick."

And with private insurance, comes competition. The ad campaigns have already begun, with several companies offering a no-deductible benefit.

Beyond all of the issues over which insurance company to choose, the Medicare drug benefit itself is complex. For example, the government share — what it pays for drugs — ranges between zero and 95 percent.

Why the benefit is so complex goes back to the fight in Congress.

"This was pure special interest lobbying," says Ron Pollack of the health care interest group Families USA. He says private insurance got this job because the drug lobby didn't want Medicare negotiating drug discounts.

"They wanted lots of different plans, none of which would have the bargaining clout to get prices down," Pollack says.

Medicare will soon provide an online service allowing seniors to compare the plans in their state. And if seniors are still confused, there's time: sign-ups don't begin for a month.
  • Melissa McNamara

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