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Poolman: Changes Needed to Simplify Medicare Part D Program
January 27, 2006 701-328-2440

Bismarck, ND - Insurance Commissioner Jim Poolman today urged significant changes be made to Medicare Part D that would simplify this new benefit and greatly enhance this program's benefits to enrollees. 

In separate letters to Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt and the North Dakota Congressional Delegation, Poolman recommended changes that could be implemented to ease the confusion seniors are going through in signing up for the program.

"The complicated process of signing up for a drug plan is clearly overwhelming our seniors," said Poolman. "Because they are overwhelmed, many are just choosing to wait to sign up or not sign up at all." Poolman's concerns are borne out in the latest figures released by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) that show that of the 105,800 currently eligible individuals in North Dakota, only 8,720 people have opted to sign up for the new benefit. CMS figures indicate a total of 34,227 are enrolled in plans. However, 10,413 of these enrollees were automatically signed up. All of this is in the wake of a tremendous public awareness campaign waged by many government agencies and interested organizations.

In summary, Poolman is calling for:

  • An extension of the enrollment deadline ~ 

    "We know from the enrollment statistics, the number of calls to our office and other, anecdotal information that seniors are not signing up for the program. If they miss the deadline, they will be penalized. This is unacceptable and should be avoided at all costs," Poolman said. 

    The additional time for enrollment into a Part D plan will give Medicare beneficiaries more time to understand their choices, and alleviate the feeling that they are running out of time and must act quickly. It will also give CMS additional time to correct software inaccuracies.
  • A standardization of and limit on the number of plans available ~ 

    In 1992, the Medicare Supplement plans were standardized. Under these plans, seniors retain a choice of twelve plans and the industry remains competitive. Forty-one Medicare Part D plans are currently offered in North Dakota. Poolman considers this extremely chaotic and completely unnecessary.
Poolman said, "While it is important to foster competition in the marketplace and enhance the choices available for consumers, it is also important to provide our seniors and disabled with prescription coverage benefits that are easily accessible, understandable, and above all, affordable. If CMS standardizes the plans, these goals could be achieved with the existing program."

CMS should proceed with an effort to standardize Part D plans, as was done with Medicare Supplement plans. The Medicare-eligible person could then select, from a limited number of plans, the one appropriate for them. A company could then be selected on the basis of price and reputation.

During the implementation of this new benefit, the ND Insurance Department, through its Senior Health Insurance Counseling (SHIC) program, together will all if its strategic partners, has conducted nearly 200 outreach sessions reaching around 125,000 people with the Medicare Part D message. In addition, SHIC program staff has conducted numerous sessions across the state to train SHIC volunteers on the implementation process. 

"It is critically important that this program be successful for our seniors." Poolman said, "We should all be open to making improvements and changes to make sure people have access.

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North Dakota Insurance Department
600 E. Boulevard Ave.
Bismarck, ND 58505-0320
Phone 701.328.2440
Toll free 800.247.0560
Fax 701.328.4880

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