June 13, 2010

Our Views: Seniors should not fall for 'doughnut hole' relief trap

A program designed to help is being used by scammers as an opportunity to steal.

A well-intended program to ease the burden of prescription drug prices on seniors has created an unintended opportunity for scam artists. As the federal government begins sending out $250 checks to seniors whose out-of-pocket spending reach the "doughnut hole" threshold and is not covered by Medicare Part D, con men posing as government officials are contacting them and trying to get them to divulge personal information.

The good news for seniors is that they don't have to do anything to collect their check if they are eligible. If they get a call from anyone who tells them that they need to give out their Social Security number to receive what they have coming from the government, they should just hang up and call the Attorney General's Office to report it. The "doughnut hole" is a flaw built into the Medicare prescription drug benefit plan.

Seniors enrolled in the program receive coverage for their initial medications until they reach a $2,830 cap. After that, they are responsible for all their costs, unless their out-of-pocket expenses exceed $6,000 and a catastrophic coverage plan kicks in.

The health care law passed this year starts to phase out the doughnut hole, starting with a one-time check for $250 for all seniors whose prescriptions exceed the initial coverage. Next year, seniors in the doughnut hole will get a 50 percent discount on name brand drugs which will gradually increase to 75 percent in 2020.

As many as 21,500 Mainers could qualify for rebate checks this year. U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree said that Maine seniors can expect to save $700 next year on their medications.

But they stand to lose much more if they fall for the scammers. Seniors should not allow this relief turn into an extra burden, and remember not give out any personal information to strangers who call them.


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