Medicare gives elderly relief

By Richard Snowden

Changes to Medicare that will affect senior citizens were the topic of discussion at a seminar held at the DeKalb County Farm Bureau in Sycamore Monday.

The seminar, hosted by Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), and presented in conjunction with Illinois’ Senior Health Insurance Program, provided information on Medicare’s new Part D program, which offers prescription drug coverage to elderly citizens via Medicare for the first time in history.

The Part D program offers eligible persons the opportunity to have a percentage of their prescription drug costs covered by Medicare. In addition to a monthly premium, persons who qualify for Part D must fulfill a $250 annual deductible before coverage begins.

After the deductible is met, Part D covers 75 percent of costs up to a total of $2,000. At that point, program members are required to pay 100 percent of the next $2,850 out of pocket, after which Part D will cover 95 percent of additional drug costs.

The Part D program can also be used in conjunction with other programs such as the Illinois Cares Rx program, said Mary Ann Burge, an education specialist with Safe Homes and Income Plans (SHIP) who conducted one of the presentations in Sycamore.

The Sycamore seminar, part of what Hastert’s office called a “Medicare Informational Tour,” was one of several planned for northern Illinois.

Originally scheduled for 13 stops, demand has been high enough that two additional stops have been added.

Response to the seminars has been greater than anticipated, said Brad Hahn, a spokesman for Hastert.

“We’ve had a very positive response so far and attendance has been very good,” Hahn said. “I think there was an appreciation that we were out there trying to help people understand their options.”

Burge, who conducts presentations on government health benefits for SHIP throughout the state, agreed.

“I think the tour has been going very well,” Burge said. “We’ve had a great turnout and we’ve been able to reach many people so far.”

The seminars are designed to help seniors gain a better understanding of the Part D program and its many facets, which Hahn said can prove difficult to understand due to the program’s complexity.

“The information can be overwhelming, so Rep. Hastert wanted to go to his constituents and explain to them what to expect and explain their options,” Hahn said.

About 200 people turned out for the Sycamore seminar, which received a positive response from most attendees. “I thought the presentation was very informative, very clear, and everyone’s questions were answered,” said Janice Wassmann, a Waterman resident who attended the seminar. “I wanted to become more informed since I haven’t read up on the subject, and I think now I can go home and make some decisions.”

Sycamore resident John Docherty, another attendee, voiced similar sentiments.

“It was very informative; I really thought it was very good,” Docherty said. “It cleared up a couple of things I’d been thinking about, and I think I’ll be able to work with the new program.”

Hahn explained that further assistance would be available to interested persons via telephone.

“We’ll have case workers available to answer calls from people,” he said. “If they’re having problems with the program, they can call us and we’ll work with them to solve the problem.”

Persons interested in learning about the Part D program can access further information by speaking with a SHIP representative at 800-548-9034.