U.S. OKs firms to give Medicare coverage
By KEVIN FREKING Associated Press Writer
© 2006 The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Seniors who complained this year about a dizzying array of choices for a Medicare drug plan may find themselves even dizzier when they shop around for next year.
Federal officials announced Friday that 17 companies have been approved to provide Medicare drug coverage nationally. This year, there were nine.
As a result, beneficiaries in Oklahoma, for example, will have 57 stand-alone plans to select from, compared to 42 this year. Beneficiaries in North Carolina will have 51 stand-alone plans to select from, compared to 38 this year.
New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia have more than 60 plans each.
In addition, beneficiaries can get coverage through one of dozens of Medicare Advantage plans. Such plans offer protection from other medical expenses, such as a visit to the doctor's office.
Many of the new plans are offering coverage that seniors have been asking for, such as no deductible or coverage in the so-called "doughnut hole," said Mark McClellan, the Bush administration's point man on Medicare. The doughnut hole is the gap created at the point when beneficiaries have to pick up all of their drug costs.
"The new options that are available are primarily options that provide enhanced coverage," McClellan said. "The number of variations for basic coverage have gone down significantly."
Critics of the program said the benefit is getting more complicated, not easier.
"The incredible confusion that persisted throughout this year is about to get considerably worse," said Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, an advocacy group. "This is because there will be quite a few more plans to choose from, they will all be different from each other, and seniors will have a much shorter time period to make decisions about enrollment."
Beginning Nov. 15, seniors have until the end of the year to enroll in a drug plan. During the program's start-up, they had about six months to enroll.
McClellan's comments came as the Department of Health and Human Services formally announced Friday which plans Medicare beneficiaries will have available to them during the benefit's second year. The officials said the monthly premium that beneficiaries pay next year will average $24 _ about the same as in 2006.
Seniors happy with their drug coverage this year _ and surveys indicate that most are _ won't have to do any shopping if they want to stay with their plan, said HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt.
"We expect most of them will not want to change. However, we do encourage seniors to compare their current plans with the new offerings," Leavitt said.
Nationally, 83 percent of beneficiaries will have access to plans with premiums lower than they are paying this year, Leavitt said.
With the new year, insurers get to update their offerings to seniors and the disabled. Some are lowering their premiums. Others are raising them. Plans are including more drugs on the list of prescriptions that they will cover. On average, plans will cover about 13 percent more drugs next year, Leavitt said.
Insurers have predicted that some of the lowest-priced plans would become more expensive as the program matured, and some of the highest priced plans would be less expensive. That appears to have occurred. For instance, Humana offered a plan in several states this year costing just $1.87 a month. In 2007, the company's basic plan will cost $10.60 a month.
Deanne Beebe, a spokeswoman for the Medicare Rights Center, said that seniors won't be won over by all the additional options.
"They don't want dozens of choices," she said. "They want one affordable drug benefit they can count on when it comes time to fill their prescription."
But competition is the reason premiums won't be increasing next year, countered Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Calif.
"Competition brings down prices and ensures seniors save money on their prescription drug costs throughout their lifetimes," he said.
Dan Mendelson, president of Avalere Health, a consulting firm, said he's not surprised by the expansion of insurers offering drug coverage nationally. He said several companies, such as Humana, already operated in most states.
"Some plans wanted to experiment and might not have gone into certain regions. Now they're more confident because they're having a profitable experience," Mendelson said.
The 17 companies approved to operate nationally are: Aetna Inc., Caremark Inc., CIGNA, Coventry Health Care Inc., EnvisionRX Plus Inc., Express Scripts Inc., Health Net Inc., Humana Inc., Long Drug Stores Corp., Medco Health Solutions Inc., Member Health Inc., NewQuest Health Solutions LLC, NMHC Systems Inc., Torchmark Corp., UnitedHealthCare-Pacificare, WellCare Health Plans Inc., and Wellpoint Inc. 认领了,好不容易 美允许公司开办医疗保险项目
作者:admin@医学,生命科学 2011-03-05 05:27