At least a quarter-million Medicare beneficiaries are getting extra time to enroll in Part D for 2007.
Last week, the CMS announced it will extend by 45 days its Part D open-enrollment deadline to Medicare beneficiaries who didnt receive timely information about their benefits, copayments, formularies and other enrollment information for 2007.
The delay took place mainly because several plans were late in sending out annual notice-of-change letters, Herb Kuhn, acting deputy administrator for the CMS, told reporters during a teleconference Dec. 29. We wanted people to have a full six weeks to prepare for the open enrollment deadline, Kuhn said. Most beneficiaries received their notice of change letters by late October, but there were at least 250,000 who didnt receive this information until much later, he said. Dec. 31 was the original deadline for Medicare beneficiaries to choose or change their health and drug coverage. Affected beneficiaries should receive letters from their plans shortly that inform them they have until Feb. 15 to enroll, Kuhn said.
He said he doesnt expect the letters to cause more confusion.
While its a good idea in theory, special enrollment periods in the past have caused headaches for beneficiaries, Paul Precht, policy coordinator of the Washington-based Medicare Rights Center, said in an interview.
There are already a number of special enrollment periods for dual eligibles and others enrolled in Medicare savings programs, he said. Often these benefits are rejected, and the beneficiary has to fight to get their benefits back with the aid of a case worker or a group such as the Medicare Rights Center, Precht said.
The CMS has learned a great deal from its first year of implementing the prescription drug program, Kuhn said. Our communications network is much improved, and beneficiaries and pharmacists are more familiar with the program. In a written statement, the CMS reported that the Medicare Online Enrollment Center had processed more than 280,000 enrollments between Nov. 15, 2006, and Dec. 27, 2006.
Kuhn said late enrollment was the biggest concern for the CMS as the deadline loomed on Dec. 31. People can enroll up to the last day and be eligible for the program, but the CMS wants to ensure that if they show up the next day at the pharmacy, that systems are in place to support them, he said. To make the pharmacy visit seamless, he said beneficiaries should come prepared with documents in handa plan identification card or at least a confirmation letter of which plan theyre enrolled in.
Precht said advocacy groups would like to see the CMS further simplify its Part D enrollment process.