It's a system that's supposed to save seniors money in prescription drugs. But Medicare Part D is drawing mixed reactions from Medicare applicants and legislators alike. One of the biggest complaints from seniors calling with questions is the inability to speak with a person instead of being connected with an automated system.
When describing the Medicare prescription drug plan, 66-year-old James Thurman can't help using the F-word. "It's just FRUSTRATING to try to deal with all that," he says.
Thurman began his research in November, not only for himself but his parents who are in their 80's.
"I think the whole thing is sad and done very poorly," Thurman said. "I mean if the government's going to force you to do something, they should also give you the means to do it."
After more than a dozen calls, Thurman could never quite connect. "I want to talk to a real-life person, not somebody in Pakistan. Rreally, I'm serious, that's what you get."
Congresswoman Anne Northup says much of the initial confusion has died down. "The first week or two, there were a lot of bugs, because of all the people that signed up at the very last minute."
However, other lawmakers believe the kinks have yet to be worked out.
Kentucky Congressman Ben Chandler calls the Medicare plan "inadequate and overly complex" and says hundreds of thousands of low-income people have faced difficulty in obtaining prescriptions, while others have been overcharged or turned away.
Federal Medicare officials don't deny the snags.
"I make no excuses for the problems, they are important, they are ours to solve and I am finding and fixing them," said Mark McClellan, director of the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
At a recent hearing on Capitol Hill, even early supporters lashed out. "This has been a fiasco, this has been botched and bungled, every step of the way," said U.S. Senator Kent Conrad of North Dakota.
Trying to choose among 42 options may come down to one solution: "People my age like to talk to a person," Thurman said.
"I think that just having the seniors know about the resources, that there are people over there that can help them, and not to be afraid to ask for help," said Michelle List who runs the Kling Center, a senior assistance center in downtown Louisville.
Because of the help of one of two social workers there, Thurman beat the bureaucracy.
"They'll kind of look and see what prescription drugs they're taking, and what will best work for them," said List.
After three hours on January 17th, Thurman successfully signed up himself and his parents. "It was like somebody lifted a house off you," he said.
However, Thurman worries other seniors will not be as lucky. "I don't think they're going to fool with it, they're just going to be caught without, and that's sad."
Legislators say the first step to sign up for the plan is to call the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services at 1-800-633-4227, or log onto their website at www.medicare.gov.
You can also get help from the Kentucky State Health Insurance Program at 502-266-6084.
If you are low-income and need extra assistance, you can call the Social Security Administration at 1-800-772-1213.
In the Louisville Metro area, the Kling Center can connect you with a social worker for one-on-one help. You can set up an appointment by calling its number at 502-636-3424.
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