By LISA ZAGAROLI
January 19, 2006
"There is no reason for you to go without your medicines, medicines you need, or for you to pay more than you owe," said Mike Leavitt, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Leavitt and Dr. Mark McClellan, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, told reporters that pharmacies should be able to work out glitches for Medicare beneficiaries with the help of extra case workers reachable by a toll-free number.
They also said that pharmacists are able to enroll beneficiaries in a default plan at the point of sale if they aren't able to sort out the problems on the spot.
Widespread problems began to surface last week with the prescription drug program, known as Medicare Part D, which officially kicked off Jan. 1.
Though senior citizens have until May 15 to apply, disabled folks and low-income seniors who qualified for Medicaid were automatically transferred over to the Medicare drug plan at the start of the year. When many of them went to get their medicine, pharmacists couldn't find their records or tried to overcharge them for their drugs.
About 20 states had to step in to cover the costs of their medications.
McClellan said the federal government intended to help states getting reimbursed expenses incurred due to the transition problems.
"They can work with us and we will facilitate reimbursement from the prescription drug plans," he said.
McClellan said states would need to compile information on the claims they paid, and the federal government would help tally what is owed, adding states wouldn't have to file on a "claim-by-claim basis."
The procedure for getting repaid had been fully laid out to state representatives as well as to the administrators of drug plans, he said.
Leavitt said it was too early to say how many people had been affected by the problems.
"Until a person has used their card once, we won't know what that number is," he said. "Many people haven't used their card yet."
Leavitt said a million prescriptions were being successfully filled every day. He also said that there had been a surge in enrollments in the last month with an additional 2.6 million folks enrolling in the plan - for a total of 3.6 million people with stand-alone drug policies.
They are separate from the 6.5 million so-called "dual eligibles" who had been getting their drugs from Medicaid and now have to get them through Medicare.
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