- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 24, 2005

The National Council on the Aging and other nonprofit groups started a $10 million education campaign this week to help senior citizens understand the new Medicare drug-benefit program, known as Part D.

Medicare, the federal health insurance program for the disabled and elderly, last week started a six-month enrollment period for its prescription drug benefit.

The program, which offers about 40 plans in each state, has generated a lot of confusion among the elderly.

“This is a big challenge for the 42 million people” eligible for the drug benefit, said James Firman, president and chief executive of the council.

The Washington advocacy group created the campaign after trying to help seniors with the Medicare drug discount-card program, Mr. Firman said Tuesday.



“We found many old people, but not all, need one-on-one assistance,” he said.

The campaign, which initially was funded by Wilmington, Del., drug company AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals LP, will send 37 vans in the next month to 27 states and the District of Columbia.

The vans, which are expected to include 300 trained counselors and about 200 computers, will travel to community centers, churches and senior-housing communities to find Medicare beneficiaries who are confused by the drug coverage.

The vans and counselors are expected to stay in the 44 metropolitan areas until the enrollment period ends May 15, Mr. Firman said. The counselors are prohibited from steering seniors toward a specific health plan.

In the other 23 states, the council plans to donate more than 700 laptops to community centers that work with seniors.

Additionally, the council created a Web site, www.MyMedicareMatters.org, because Medicare’s site, www.medicare.gov, “has a lot of information,” Mr. Firman said. “We wanted to make it simple,” he said.

“Drug coverage is essential to the good health and high quality of life in Americans,” said Dr. Mark McClellan, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, at the press conference.

Dr. McClellan urged the elderly to work with their families and friends in understanding the enrollment process.

Military records go high-tech

The Defense Department this week introduced its electronic health-record system, which is being used by about half of the military’s 60,000 medical practitioners worldwide.

The $1.2 billion system, which will cost an estimated $100 million annually to maintain, is expected to reduce health costs and medical mistakes by digitally storing patient records for more than 9 million servicemen, retirees and their families.

“This is a major accomplishment in military medicine,” said Dr. William Winkenwerder, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, at a press conference Monday at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda.

The system, called Ahlta, is designed to run on military hospital computers, hand-held devices and laptops for medical units in combat areas, Dr. Winkenwerder said.

Ahlta, which was started in 1997, is expected to be fully implemented at the military’s 800 clinics and 70 hospitals by December 2006.

Health Care runs Fridays. Call 202/636-4892 or e-mail [email protected]washingtontimes.com.

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