‘Sunbird’ Seniors Encouraged To Enroll in National Drug Plan
Government officials and advocates are urging seniors who spend significant time away from home each year to sign up for a national Medicare drug plan and not a regional plan, which might not cover their medications when they are away from home, the AP/Washington Times reports. According to the AP/Times, many states with large numbers of so-called "snowbirds" and "sunbirds" -- retirees who live in other states for large parts of the year -- do not have contingency plans for seniors who discover their Medicare drug plan only works in their home states.
Seniors who find themselves in such a situation would have to wait to change plans in the fall open-enrollment period, federal officials and advocates say. To avoid such confusion, officials are using advertisements, press attention and counselors at senior centers or telephone hot lines to alert seniors to the issue.
Scott Parkin of the National Council on Aging said, "This is a new program, and people are trying to learn about it, and concerns about travel are questions people need to ask. It could be a problem, but we probably won't see this until more people start heading north" (AP/Washington Times, 5/2).
In related news, The Hill on Tuesday examined public opinion on the drug benefit and how Democrats hope to use their criticism of the program for "political gains in the midterm elections." According to The Hill, Democrats have long described the drug benefit as a "disaster" and said seniors are "too confused to choose the right plan."
Several Democrats have introduced legislation that would change the program and are pushing for an extension of the enrollment deadline. However, their "strategy could prove risky," with the latest public opinion polls showing that seniors who have joined a drug plan are "satisfied with their coverage," The Hill reports.
Still, Democrats remain confident that public opinion will shift again when seniors begin to reach the so-called "doughnut hole" -- the gap in drug coverage between $2,250 and $5,100 in drug costs during which beneficiaries are responsible for 100% of costs -- likely right before the election.
"Let's do the [public opinion] poll" when the doughnut hole becomes a problem, Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) said. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) said, "It's not about telling people whether it's working or not. They will know." She added, "I don't know of any Democrat who thinks this is working the way it should. You betcha this is going to be an issue" in the midterm election (Young, The Hill, 5/2).