Get help with picking drug plan

The biggest workshop yet in Snohomish County to help seniors sign up for new Medicare prescription drug benefits will be Wednesday in Lynnwood.

Sponsored by Senior Information and Assistance of Snohomish County, the workshop will allow seniors to get answers to their questions on the new prescription drug plan, called Medicare Part D.

The event will be 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Lynnwood Convention Center, 3711 196th St. SW.

Help is available all day for those who speak English. Special sessions also have been scheduled for those who speak Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese, Pilipino and Spanish.

Some seniors worry that if they don’t sign up by the end of the year, they’ll miss out, said Shirley Hauck, a Medicare prescription drug specialist for Senior Services of Snohomish County. In fact, people have until May 15 to sign up without penalty.

“Don’t panic,” Hauck said. “There is time.”

On average, seniors using the plan could save about 28 percent, or $414 next year, according to the California-based Kaiser Family Foundation.

Additional savings are available for those who meet low-income requirements.

Some retirees who now have prescription drugs covered through insurance from their former employers are opting to stay with those plans.

“At this point, our insurance covers prescription drugs,” said Jackie Claude of Everett. She and her husband are retired state employees. “It doesn’t make any sense to change over.”

She said she’s happy not to have to make a switch and choose a prescription drug plan.

While Claude admits she hasn’t spent a lot of time examining the options, “I can imagine a lot of people out there being totally confused and bewildered,” she said.

When signups first began in mid-November, the federal Web site to help seniors make their choice,, was overwhelmed with people seeking information, Hauck said.

This meant the site initially was slow to navigate, she said, but it has since improved.

There are still some glitches, though. The Web site’s program was adding about $200 too much in estimated costs to consumers, she said.

The prescription drug plans available to seniors are part of a sweeping national change in helping Medicare patients pay for prescription drugs. For the first time, Medicare will help seniors pay for prescribed medicines outside of hospitals.

The drug plans will replace the current Medicare discount drug-card programs.

A local information line to help answer questions about the drug plans has been swamped with callers, Hauck said, with as many as 90 people calling a day.

In Washington state, 21 companies are offering 41 prescription discount plans. The monthly cost of the plans ranges from $6.93 to $64.99.

Some plans offer only generic drugs. Most have a mail-order service. Each plan must disclose how many of the top 100 prescribed drugs it offers in its plan. Some have deductibles, some don’t.

Medicare health maintenance organizations also are offering plans.

Hauck’s advice to those trying to figure out the new plans is have patience.

“It took me about three times before I really figured it out,” she said.

Reporter Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486 or

Medicare workshop

A workshop to help people with questions on Medicare’s new prescription drug benefit will be 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday at the Lynnwood Convention Center, 3711 196th St. SW.

Help is available all day to those who speak English, but sessions also will be available for those who speak other languages: Korean, 9 a.m. to noon; Chinese 10 a.m. to noon; Vietnamese noon to 2 p.m.; Pilipino and Spanish, 2 to 4 p.m.

Anyone coming to the workshop should bring:

* Their Medicare identification card,

* Their supplemental or other health insurance identification card,

* A list of current prescriptions and their dosages,

* Any mailings received about Medicare Part D.

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