Medicare drug assistance program operating again

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(Host) State officials say a new federal Medicare drug assistance program is up and operating once again in Vermont.

Thousands of people who were previously enrolled in a state pharmaceutical program encountered massive problems when the Medicare Part D program was put into place on January first.

There are initial reports that many of these administrative problems have been eliminated.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) At the beginning of the year there was chaos and confusion at many pharmacies across the state as thousands of Vermonters were transferred from a state drug assistance program to a new federal plan known as Medicare Part D.

The problems were so bad that the state had to step in and re-enroll these individuals in the state program at a cost of nearly 9 million dollars.

After receiving assurances from the federal government that the initial problems have been solved, the Douglas Administration restarted its participation in the Medicare Part D plan.

Steve Dale is the acting Secretary of the Agency of Human Services. He says the transition back has been relatively smooth:

(Dale) “We have a call center that’s been operating today to solve any problems that folks may be having. And they are really feeling very good about both the nature of any calls that they’ve received and the fact that there have been very few.”

Dale says the 2-month delay in implementing the program has given federal officials an opportunity to improve the administrative services for the plan:

(Dale) “There were representations made to the states about the readiness of the federal system to accommodate the new program and those representations didn’t prove to be accurate.”

(Kinzel) Richard Harvie is the chief pharmacist at Brooks Drugs in Montpelier.

Harvie says that while the program is running much better administratively, it still has some serious problems for people who were previously part of the state plan.

That’s because Medicare and Medicaid have a different list of approved drugs:

(Harvie) “Which means we would have to call the doctor and the doctor would have call the insurance company or Medicaid in this case, to get it approved. It just takes more time and we will try to do that for people. But again, it just is going to take more time. Sometimes those won’t be approved and if that is not approved by Medicaid then the person would be responsible to pay the entire co pay or cost of the medication.”

(Kinzel) Harvie hopes that Vermonters who are eligible for the program will not be discouraged by the initial problems because he says the plan can save participants a significant amount of money.

For Vermont Public Radio I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier

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