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The rising cost of health care and prescription drugs is of great concern, but for South Dakota seniors, help is on the way. Starting November 15, seniors across South Dakota will have an opportunity to start signing up for the new prescription drug coverage under Medicare. This new benefit is one-hundred percent voluntary, but beneficiaries must sign up to take advantage of the savings.

The Medicare Modernization Act signed into law in 2003 can help Medicare beneficiaries lower the cost of their prescription drugs, especially seniors with limited resources. The new benefit offers many choices for prescription drug coverage and seniors should examine plans carefully to find the right one for their individual health care needs.

Medicare prescription drug coverage will provide beneficiaries with insurance coverage for their prescription drugs. Companies will compete to provide coverage for both brand name and generic drugs. Approximately 17 organizations will be offering stand-alone prescription drug plans in South Dakota.

As with other types of insurance, monthly premiums and out-of-pocket costs may vary between plans. Starting in October, Medicare beneficiaries will receive information regarding available prescription drug plans in South Dakota. This information will help beneficiaries find the right plan for their health care needs by comparing costs, drugs that are covered and participating pharmacies.

Medicare beneficiaries with limited income and resources may qualify for extra help to pay for premiums, the annual deductible and co-payments for their prescription drugs. Additionally, Medicare beneficiaries receiving Medicaid coverage or Supplemental Security Income benefits will automatically qualify and be auto-enrolled in a prescription drug plan by the Social Security Administration.

Seniors who wish to participate can sign up for a Medicare prescription drug plan starting November 15, 2005 and need to be enrolled by May 15, 2006. Seniors who do not sign up by May 15, 2006, however, may have to pay a penalty and must wait until November 15, 2006 to sign up.

Several authorized organizations are ready to help Medicare beneficiaries in South Dakota find prescription drug coverage that is right for them. Below is a list of organizations that South Dakota seniors can contact to help them enroll.

1. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS)
1-800-MEDICARE or 1-800-633-4227

2. Senior Health Information and Insurance Education (SHIINE)

3. South Dakota Social Security Offices (for questions about extra help for people with limited incomes)

You may also contact my office at 1-866-850-3855 with any questions regarding the Medicare prescription drug benefit.