Mikulski Calls For Medicare Part D Deadline Extension

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) has joined a bipartisan group of Senate colleagues in urging Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) to bring legislation to the Senate floor to extend the deadline for the new Medicare prescription drug program (Part D) from its original May 15, 2006, deadline to the end of the year.

"I believe 'honor thy mother and father' is not just a good commandment to live by, it is good public policy to govern by. That's why I feel so strongly about Medicare," said Senator Mikulski. "Medicare Part D is a mess and America's seniors need more time to understand it. We must do everything we can in the Senate to create solutions to help, not harm, America's seniors."

The deadline extension would delay financial penalties for those who enroll at a later date. The new program has left many seniors and individuals with disabilities concerned and confused about the new benefits and whether or not they should enroll.

The text of the letter is below:

Dear Majority Leader Frist:

As you know, enrollment in the new Medicare prescription drug program is underway. Across the country, over 40 million Medicare beneficiaries have been presented with the choice of signing up for the program. Unfortunately, many seniors and individuals with disabilities are understandably concerned and confused about the new benefit.

Medicare beneficiaries face a number of prescription drug plan options, and choosing the right plan can be a challenge. Each of the options differs in terms of premiums, cost-sharing requirements, drugs covered and pharmacy access. Sorting through these plans has proven to be difficult and time consuming. Further complicating matters, the Medicare drug program is experiencing a variety of implementation problems that have disproportionately affected the most vulnerable beneficiaries.

Yet, beneficiaries who do not act by the May 15, 2006, deadline and who enroll at a later date will face a financial penalty. Seniors who choose a plan after May 15, 2006, will be penalized by a one percent increase in their premium for each month they delay their choice.

Legislation has been introduced in the Senate which would expand the existing six-month open enrollment period to the entire year of 2006. By extending the enrollment deadline and delaying late enrollment penalties, we can make sure that our constituents are not forced to make hasty decisions about their health care. The stakes here are too high to deny seniors the time and resources they need to make an informed decision.

We all share the goal of ensuring that Medicare beneficiaries have sufficient time and assistance to make a wise decision regarding prescription drug coverage. Extending the deadline for the new program is a small but important step that will help ease the transition to this new program. We urge you, as the Senate Majority Leader, to bring legislation extending the Medicare prescription deadline to the Senate floor as soon as possible.

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