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Medicare drug session draws crowd

Of more than 50 senior citizens in Clarence Town Hall for an information session Friday on the controversial Medicare drug program, some suggested scrapping it while others argued for more time.

Even more were there to get up to speed on the oft-confusing Medicare Part D.

Hosted by Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds, R-Clarence, representatives from the Social Security Administration and Erie County addressed questions on the program -- part of the Medicare Modernization Act, passed by Congress in 2003. In particular:

What's the best way to join a drug plan?

"A drug plan is optional for most," said Bill Daniels, of the Erie County Department of Senior Services Health Insurance Information, Counseling and Assistance Program (HIICAP). "There are 47 different plans to choose from. That is an awful lot, but it's driving down costs. This will make this a less expensive program for the federal government. We're trying to make this as simple as possible."

How do you pay for prescription drug coverage?

"Remit a check [or] get an automatic deduction from your bank account or Social Security plan," said Dennis Potocki of the Social Security Administration. "You can choose how to pay when you sign up."

What if I already have prescription drug coverage?

"If you have coverage as good as Medicare prescription drug coverage, you can keep it, and if you ever lose coverage, you can sign up for Medicare drug coverage and not be penalized," said Frank Winter, a representative of the federal government's Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. "EPIC [the state program), [Veterans Affairs] coverage and Medicare HMOs are as good as Medicare coverage."

While many seniors said they are confused over the drug benefit, there also was debate over the program's value.

"This is not a perfect program. There's room for improvement," Reynolds said. "This program will help us with catastrophic drug costs. It's the first time since 1965 that a prescription drug program has been offered to seniors."

Kathy and Herman Montalvo of Williamsville shared Reynolds' optimism. Before the program, the couple's prescription costs totaled $2,000 per year, with $500 of that covered. Now, $2,250 is covered, the Montalvos said. "I say don't scrap the program and start all over," Kathy Montalvo said. "My husband and I can look forward to a little more coverage for each of us."

Others, like Susie Williams of Clarence, aren't happy with the program.

"I found out I have to join, and I don't like that I will be penalized if I don't join," she said. "I say scrap all of it."

Since November, Reynolds has hosted 13 forums throughout Western New York.

From 10:30 a.m. until noon today, Reynolds will host a discussion on passport and border crossing with local business and tourism industry leaders in the Center for Tomorrow on the University at Buffalo campus.

e-mail: dswilliams@buffnews.com

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