If you’ve been waiting until tomorrow to sign up for Medicare Part D, you’re running out of time.

That “tomorrow” is midnight Monday ... the deadline to sign up for this $1.3 trillion part of Medicare that provides prescription drug coverage.

Miss this deadline and you’ll have to wait six months until the next enrollment period (Nov. 15-Dec. 31) and go without drug coverage in the meantime.

“You’ll also face paying 1 percent a month more on your premiums,” said Jim Smallridge, director of WV SHIP (State Health Insurance Assistance Program) with the West Virginia Bureau of Senior Services.

That means paying an additional 7 percent by the time you can enroll in November — and for every month thereafter, he said.

According to The Associated Press, the penalty equals 1 percent of the national average premium for each month an eligible beneficiary goes without drug insurance. The national average monthly premium is $33.50, so those who miss Monday’s cut-off date will pay at least $2.31 a month more on their drug premium for the rest of their lives.

Because there are so many plans available, Medicare recipients have been “bombarded” with information, Smallridge said.

“There are 57 plans available in West Virginia. A lot of seniors never had to do anything like this before, so they threw their hands up at the sheer volume of information.”

“We’re still signing people for it, but it’s not as big a rush as it was back between Nov. 15 and Jan. 1,” said Jerry Boyers, pharmacist in charge at Rider Pharmacy.

“I’m not sure whether people who wanted to sign up already have or if they haven’t decided if they need to or not. They may not be taking many meds right now, but that can change at any time.

“I don’t think a lot of people understand that the penalty begins after Monday.”

Boyers said that staff there is more than happy to go over available plans.

“We can recommend plans, but we can’t recommend one over another. We have to give people a choice, and then it’s their decision. And they have to do the enrollment themselves. We can’t actually enroll them.”

“Of the 350,000 Medicare eligible individuals in West Virginia, we’re approaching 300,000 who now have prescription drug coverage,” Smallridge said. “So we’re probably a little ahead of the national average.”

He credits the West Virginia Call Center for the Medicare Prescription Drug Plan with that success.

“We’re the only call center of its type in the nation. Most people are referred to medicare.gov or 1-800-medicare. Those are great, but they’re being bombarded nationwide.”

The center is open at 1-877-987-4463 from 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. This weekend hours are being extended to 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, and Monday evening as needed, in anticipation of increased calls, he said.

“I encourage everybody with Medicare to call the center, even if they think they don’t need the program because they have better coverage through another program.”

Armed with medical card and list of current medications, callers will be given a list of plans.

“You can make your choice from there. Plans are based on the medication you take. So you can have a husband and wife who take different medications be on different plans.”

The annual sign-up period will be Nov. 15-Dec. 31, the only time when people may enroll in or change plans, Smallridge said.

Plans made by Monday go into effect June 1. Those made in November won’t go into effect until January 2007, he said.

For more information, visit or call:

www.medicare.gov

www.mymedicarematters.org

www.familiesusa.org

Medicare: 1-800 Medicare (1-800-633-4227)

WVSHIP: 1-877-987-4463.

E-mail Debra Minor Wilson at dwilson@timeswv.com.

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